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Full text of "Nathaniel Macon of North Carolina : three views of his character and creed"

Thomas Jefferson and Nathaniel Macon: A Republican Friendship 



ascendancy of one sect over another." When the Old Republicans began their 
break with Jefferson after 1805, they would hearken back to the "Spirit of '98" that 
the Gerry letter enunciated so clearly. Nathaniel Macon would endorse those 
principles, tor they were already his own. For both men, the 1790s had been a 
decade when the ideals of individual liberty and political accountability so central 
tn the American Revolution had been eroded and threatened. Jefferson, and to a 
lesser extent Macon, were less states' rights advocates in the way that southerners 
of the 1850s would be than men who supported state sovereignty at a time when 
the federal government seemed to be leaning toward monarchy." 

With Jefferson's election as president in 1800 anJ Republican control of 
Congress, the "Revolution of 1800," as Jefferson would call it years later, was 
under way. In the House of Representatives, Nathaniel Macon was elected 
Speaker late in 1801, and he eventually elevated John Randolph of Roanoke to 
chairmanship of the powerful Ways and Means Committee. The Seventh 
Congress, with Macon in the Speaker's chair, approved a bill to completely retire 
the public debt by 1817, reduced the army to three thousand troops, and cut naval 
appropriations. As Macon's ally Joseph Nicholson of Maryland said in the first 
session, "It is no part of our political creed that a public debt is a public blessing." 32 
The "Spirit of '98" was being put into practice. 

Months earlier, just after Jefferson was installed as president (which was carried 
out with little fanfare in marked contrast to the inauguration of John Adams), 
Nathaniel Macon had written to his friend: "Suffer me to say to you that the 
people expect — That Levees will be done way / That the communication to the 
next Congress will be by letter not a speech / That we have too many ministers in 
Europe / . . . That the army might be safely reduced. ... In fact that a system of 
economy is to be adopted and pursued with energy." 33 

Jefferson's response on May 14, 1801, delighted Macon: "Levees are done away. 
The first communication to the next Congress will be, like all subsequent ones, by 
message, to which no answer will be expected. The diplomatic establishment in 
Europe will be reduced to three ministers." Both Macon's April letter and the 
president's reply grew directly out of their creed: wariness of the executive and any 
tendencies toward monarchical practices, as well as frugality — leading to lower 
taxes — in the operations of government. Both Jefferson and Macon disliked the 

31. Jefferson to Elhridge Gerry, January 26, 1799, in Onuf, ed., fefferson: An Anthology, 164-169; 
Cunningham, Jn Pursuit of Reason, 166; Malone, Jefferson and the Ordeal of Liberty, 409; Ellis, American 
Sphinx, 254. 

32. Wilent:, The Rise of American Democracy, 98; Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," 78-79; Banning, Je/jfersonian 
Persuasion, 277. 

}}. Macon to Jefferson, April 20, 1801, Jefferson Papers; Wilent:, The Rise of American Democracy, 95. 
On Inauguration Day, Jefferson, in a plain suit and with his hair unpowdered, walked from his lodgings 
to the i ' ipiT. i| and w is sworn in. 



THE LIBRARY OF THE 

UNIVERSITY OF 

NORTH CAROLINA 

AT CHAPEL HILL 




THE COLLECTION OF 
NORTH CAROLINIANA 

PRESENTED BY 

North Carolinians Society 



C906 
N87s 
no. 44 



UNIVERSITY OF N.C AT CHAPEL HILL 



00031699537 



This book may be kept out one month unless a recall 
notice is sent to you. It must be brought to the North 
Carolina Collection (in Wilson Library) for renewal. 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2012 with funding from 

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 



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/V ATHANIEL c/VtACON 

of 
NORTH CAROLINA 





WILLIAM S. PRICE JR. 



The first three hundred copies of 

Nathaniel Macon of North Carolina: Three Views of His Character and Creed 

serve as No. 44 in the limited-edition series titled 

North Caroliniana Society Imprints 



NORTH CAROLINIANA SOCIETY IMPRINTS 

Number 44 
H. G. JONES, General Editor, Nos. \A4 



This edition is limited to three hundred signed copies, 
of which this is number 



°9S 



Nathaniel Macon of North Carolina 
Three Views of His Character and Creed 




Drawing of Nathaniel Macon by Katie Price, 2007, based on the W. G. Randall drawing and the Robert D. Gauley 
portrait in the U.S. Capitol. Randall made his drawing after Macon's death (he refused many offers to do one 
while alive), relying on the descriptions of men who had known Macon. 



Nathaniel Macon of North Carolina 
Three Views of His Character and Creed 



By- 
William S. Price Jr. 



North Carolina Office of Archives and History 
Raleigh 

2008 



In association with the North Caroliniana Society 
Chapel Hill 



© 2008 by the North Carolina Office of Archives and History 

All rights reserved 

ISBN 978-0-86526-334-5 

North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources 

Lisbeth C. Evans, Secretary 

Office of Archives and History 

Jeffrey J. Crow, Deputy Secretary 

Division of Historical Resources 

David L. S. Brook, Director 

Historical Publications Section 

Donna E. Kelly, Administrator 



North Carolina Historical Commission 

Jerry C. Cashion ( 2013) 
Chairman 

Alan D. Watson (2009) 
Vice Chairman 

Millie M. Barbee (2009) B. Perry Morrison Jr. (2011) 

Mary Lynn Bryan (2011) Janet N. Norton (201 1 ) 

Kemp P. Burpeau ( 2009 ) Freddie L. Parker (2013) 

Paul D. Escort (2013) Barbara B. Snowden (2013) 

Harry L.Watson (2011) 
EMERITI: N. J. Crawford, H. G. Jones, William S. Powell, Max R. Williams 



North Caroliniana Society Board of Directors (2007) 

Willis P. Whichard, President 
Archie K. Davis (1911-1998) and William C. Friday, Presidents Emeriti 
William S. Powell, Vice-President 
H. G. Jones, Secretary 
Martin H. Brinkley, Treasurer 
H. David Bruton John L. Sanders 

Kevin Cherry W. Trent Ragland Jr. 

James W. Clark Jr. Nancy Cobb Lilly 

Dana Borden Lacy Dannye Romine Powell 

Ex Officio: Deputy Secretary, Office of Archives and History 
Curator, North Carolina Collection 



noMi 



Contents 



*♦-#- 



Foreword vii 

Thomas Jefferson and Nathaniel Macon: A Republican Friendship 1 

Nathaniel Macon, Antifederalist 27 

Nathaniel Macon, Planter 52 

Index 83 



Cover: "Courthouse Warrenton, 1812," painting by a Miss Somerville in the Warren County Memorial Library, 
Warrenton, North Carolina. A typed label on the back of the painting reads, "Presented to Warren County by 
B. S. Bronson, Jr. in memory of B. S. Bronson and Alice Sommerville Bronson." Manly Wade Wellman, who 
reproduced an image of the painting in his The County of Warren, NorthCarolma, 1586-1917, notes: "It is said the 
two figures in the left foreground represent Dr. James Brehon and William Falkener, the schoolmaster." 



Foreword 



As I write these words, it is 2008 — two hundred and fifty years since the birth of 
Nathaniel Macon, the only lifelong North Carolinian ever to have been 
Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and the first American to be 
elected to multiple consecutive terms as Speaker. Parts of his political legacy endure 
in his state and region and are evidenced in the stands of politicians as different as 
Jesse Helms and John Edwards. Today, few people comprehend Macon's persistent 
influence on the conservative/"populist" dynamic of his region, and this book 
seeks to suggest a fuller understanding of his legacy. 

The community of Macon, North Carolina, was a special place for me from my 
earliest memories. My mother was born there in the Rodwell homeplace in 1905, 
and my brother, in 1933. My beloved aunt Ida and her husband, Marvin Drake, 
still lived in that house when 1 came along in 1941. Throughout the 1940s and 
1950s, I visited her often, sometimes for a week or more during summertime. 
Named for Nathaniel Macon, the town had a railroad depot (my grandfather 
Rodwell had once been stationmaster there), a post office, four churches (two 
black, two white), a two-story hotel, a school, a tiny commercial district, and a 
small cluster of dwellings on either side of the Seaboard Air Line Railway tracks 
that divided the village. Farms were numerous in the surrounding countryside and 
pushed right up against the town. The homeplace of my distant cousin Nathaniel 
Macon Thornton had scores of acres with several outbuildings, including a stable 
where he kept horses. Mac (pronounced "make") allowed me to ride whenever I 
wanted — which was much of the time once I reached the age of nine or so. My 
favorite was a horse named Jimmy, which I rode mostly on my kinsman's ample 
fenced property. But in 1952, Mac let me take Jimmy off the place (accompanied 
on their own mounts by a man who worked for him and that man's young son) to 
travel to what was the only "historic site" in the area — Buck Spring plantation, 
the home of Warren County's then most famous native, Nathaniel Macon. 

At the end of the three miles or so of dirt road that took us there, I saw an 
unimpressive frame house not much different from many dwellings still lived in 
throughout the county. If the house failed to impress — I had seen Gone with the 
Wind, and clearly Buck Spring was no Tara — one feature on the place riveted. A 
few hundred yards from the dwelling was a tiny cemetery with a mound of stones 



Foreword 



in it. It was the grave of Nathaniel Macon, and its marker mentioned that he had 
known Thomas Jefferson. Drawn to history already, I knew that Jefferson was a 
great man, and perhaps the man under the stones would be worth getting to know. 
Forrest Harris, the adult in our trio, said that Mr. Macon had asked that visitors 
add rocks to his grave, and we found some to toss on the pile. I promised myself 
that I would find out more about Nathaniel Macon some day. 

Twenty-four years later, I remembered that promise when I heard Harry 
Watson, a young professor from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 
deliver a paper to the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association on 
antebellum politics in the state. There were a number of quotes from Nathaniel 
Macon in the piece, and Harry graciously shared those sources with me. I was far 
more familiar with the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries than the nineteenth, 
so the reading I needed to do to understand Macon's life and times more fully 
would have to wait. The demands of my job and a young family at home took 
precedence. 

In 1995, 1 took early retirement from the North Carolina Division of Archives 
and History and began teaching at Meredith College in Raleigh, where I offered 
courses in various facets of southern and public history for eleven years. With long 
stretches of each summer free of teaching obligations, I began reading about 
Nathaniel Macon and his era. I dove into the rich archival and manuscript 
collections of the North Carolina State Archives, the University of North 
Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), and Duke University, assisted by the able staff 
members of these institutions. For printed sources I benefited from libraries at 
UNC (especially the remarkable North Carolina Collection), North Carolina 
State University, and Meredith College. 

Having early on loved a town that was native to my mother, Elizabeth Rodwell 
Price, and my brother, Reynolds, within a county that also had produced my 
father, William Solomon Price, in nearby Warrenton in 1900; having many 
Rodwell and Price relatives still in the county, some dead, some living; and having 
seen Buck Spring at the instance of a man named for Macon, I had some real 
emotional incentives to keep working. Then in 1998, 1 read the autobiography of 
Macon's close political and personal friend, Martin Van Buren. On his opening 
page, Van Buren reveals that he had finally found the time to write a memoir late 
in life, buoyed by the invigorating environment of a beautiful Italian town on the 
Gulf of Naples, within sight of Vesuvius. As I read the name of the town, I laughed 
out loud. It was Sorrento, birthplace and home until she was fourteen of my wife of 
four decades, Pia Tavernise. Were the Fates prodding me to quit reading so much 
and begin writing? 

In 2001, I published my first article on Macon in the North Carolina Historical 
Review. Although I had been invited to submit the piece elsewhere, I wanted it to 
be in the Review, not only because of that journal's distinguished record, but 



Foreword 



because it provided illustrations, and that first piece (featuring Macon's physical 
and cultural environment) needed instructive images. Three years later, the 
Review published my next article, focusing on Macon's political ideology. In the 
case of both articles, I had the benefit of working with the first-class staff of the 
Historical Publications Section of the Office of Archives and History, especially 
Donna Kelly and Anne Miller. The fact that this relationship has continued into 
the publication of the current work is a genuine pleasure for me. 

Offered herein are the two earlier pieces, "Nathaniel Macon, Planter" and 
"Nathaniel Macon, Antifederalist," and a heretofore unpublished essay, "Thomas 
Jefferson and Nathaniel Macon: A Republican Friendship." They appear here in 
reverse chronological order; that is, the newest article appears first and the oldest, 
last. What I have tried to do in the three pieces is to illuminate Nathaniel Macon's 
character, motivations, and values as demonstrated in his life and career — his 
agrarianism, his beliefs, his personality, his milieu, his politics, and, above all, his 
steadfast devotion to what he believed to be the legacy of the American 
Revolution. There is inevitably some overlap of facts and ideas from one essay to 
another, as each article was designed to stand alone. However, I hope that all 
three complement one another sufficiently to offer them without excisions or 
additions for greater unity. 

In the case of all three essays, I have benefited from the careful and critical 
readings of two exemplary historians (and even better friends), Jeffrey Crow and 
Don Higginbotham. Sometimes I did not heed their advice, but I was always 
informed by it. Other readers critiqued the two previously published pieces to 
their improvement. I acknowledge them in those articles and will not repeat their 
names. I am very grateful to have had the useful criticism of my former student, 
Elizabeth Crowder, in the new essay on the friendship with Jefferson. Again, I 
have not always heeded her counsel and so bear responsibility for my own words. I 
am likewise grateful to Barton College and the Wilson County Historical Society 
tor offering me the BB&T Endowed Annual Lecture at the college in the fall of 
2006. That commitment forced me to get to work on the final essay without the 
foot-dragging that my recent retirement from Meredith might have caused. The 
piece offered here is fuller than the one delivered at Barton and better for the 
experience (and good questions) I had there. Also, I am honored that the North 
Caroliniana Society has chosen to include this book among its distinguished 
imprints. The Society's secretary and general editor, H. G. Jones, is one of the 
premier public historians in the nation and gave me my start in the profession 
when he hired me to head the North Carolina Colonial Records Project in 1971. 
North Carolina is fortunate to have the Society doing so many worthy things to 
support the state's history and literature. 



Foreword 



As my research progressed, I became increasingly intrigued by Macon's career 
and stature among his contemporaries. Most revealing to me was his persistent 
championing of self-sufficient farmers and laborers (all of them white). Some 
modern observers label proponents of the working classes "populists." A strong 
populist vein is still part of North Carolina politics among candidates of both 
major parties. While it is impossible to know how a nineteenth-century figure 
would vote two centuries later, I believe that Macon would have felt most 
comfortable with the twentieth-century Tar Heel politician W. Kerr Scott, 
governor and U.S. senator. 

In closing, the emotional element of my work has been as compelling as any 
intellectual appeal. As stirring as my boyhood memories are, the larger pull has 
been the people I love most. I have already named my remembered parents, my 
brother, and my wife above. I complete the list with the names of my daughters, 
Marie Elizabeth Price Keelan and Katherine Reynolds Price McBrayer, and my 
grandchildren, Katherine Eileen Keelan and Imogene Price McBrayer. I hope that 
all of them will accept this offering as a reminder of a world that once was and a 
place that still is. 



William S.Price Jr. 



Thomas Jefferson and Nathaniel Macon: 
A Republican Friendship 



Less than four months before his death, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter for his 
grandson to hand deliver to Sen. Nathaniel Macon of North Carolina. The 
text of the message in the unsteady but legible hand of the great man reads: 

My grandson Th. Jefferson Randolph, the bearer of this letter on a 
journey to the North, will pass 2 or 3 days perhaps in Washington. 
I cannot permit him to do this without presenting him to a friend of 
so long standing, whom 1 consider as the strictest of our 
models of genuine republicanism. Let him be able to say when you 
are gone but not forgotten that he had seen Nathanl. Macon on whose 
tomb will be written Ultimus Romanorum [Last of the Romans]. 
I only ask you to give him a hearty shake of the hand on my acct. as 
well as his, assuring you that he merits it as a man & citizen to 
which I add my unceasing affection to yourself. 

Even when one concedes that Jefferson was a skilled politician given to occasional 
flattery, this brief letter surely testifies to his regard for Macon; nor is such a letter 
without precedent in the long friendship of the two men. 2 

Of the two, Jefferson is the better known, of course. His image is on our money, 
his face is on Rushmore, and on and on. He is an American icon. Were he 
remembered only as the president who managed the Louisiana Purchase, his fame 
would be assured. But his achievements are abundant on either side of his White 
House years. 5 Macon, as the less famous of the pair, deserves a brief overview to 

1. Thomas Jefferson to Nathaniel Macon, March 24, 1826, Series 1, General Correspondence, 
1651-1827, Thomas Jefferson Papers, American Memory, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 
http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/jefferson_papers/mtjserl.html (accessed June 28, 2006). 
This collection will hereinafter be cited as Jefferson Papers. The ttanscription omits Jefferson's 
occasionally erratic punctuation, brings superscripts down to the line, and translates the Latin tribute in 
square brackets but is otherwise literal. 

2. On Jefferson's political skills, see Bernard Bailyn, To Begin the World Anew: The Genius and Ambiguities 
of the American Founders (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003), 45-46; and James Sterling Young, The 
Washington Community 1800-1828 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1966), 129-131, 168-170. 
Precedents include Thomas Jefferson to Nathaniel Macon, October 10, 1823, Jefferson Papers; Jefferson 
to Macon, August 19, 1821, in Paul Leicester Ford, ed., The Writings of Thomas ]efferson, 10 vols. (New 
York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1892-1899), 10:192-193; and Thomas Hart Benton, Thirty Years' View . . . 
from 1820 to 1850 (1875; reprint, New York: George Braziller, 1963), 32. 

3. The primary and secondary literature on Jefferson is immense. Two excellent single-volume 
introductions are Noble E. Cunningham Jr., In Pursuit of Reason: The Life of Thomas Jefferson (New York: 
Ballantine Books, 1988); and Joseph J. Ellis, American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas fefferson (New 
York: Alfred A. Knopf. 1997). For a fuller rendering, see the magisterial six volumes by Dumas Malone, 
entitled ]efferson and His Time, completed in 1981; individual volumes in this series will be cited by their 



Nathaniel Macon: Three Views of His Character and Creed 



highlight those points that most acutely intersected with Jefferson's career and 
legacy. Because a majority of those contacts involved politics, the following 
summary stresses Macon's political life. 

Macon was the sixth of eight children born to Gideon Macon and Priscilla 
Jones, in what would eventually become Warren County, North Carolina. He was 
not yet four years old when his well-to-do father died, probably early in 1762. 
Priscilla sent at least two of her sons (Nathaniel was one of them) to Charles 
Pettigrew's school in nearby Bute County Courthouse in 1766, and Nathaniel 
headed to the College of New Jersey (later Princeton) in 1774 along with his older 
brother, John. Nathaniel was a member of the Class of 1778, but the coming of the 
American Revolution interrupted his studies in 1776, and he likely left the school 
for good when President John Witherspoon dismissed all students that November 
because of nearby warfare. 4 

Returning to North Carolina, Macon eventually settled in northern Warren 
County at the end of 1779, two weeks after his twenty-first birthday, on land 
willed to him by his father. Nathaniel named the plantation he built there Buck 
Spring; it would remain home until his death in 1837. 

Macon's plantation was close to the Roanoke River and the prosperous nearby 
town of Halifax, and he came to know prominent planters like William 
Richardson Davie, who would become a Revolutionary War hero and later a 
leading Federalist, and Willie Jones, a friend and ally of Jefferson and later the 
leading opponent of the U.S. Constitution of 1787 in North Carolina. Nathaniel 
became a protege of Jones, as did his brothers John and Harrison. 5 

Having served briefly in a New Jersey militia company in 1776, Macon joined a 
North Carolina unit in 1 780 and a year later was elected to the state senate, where 
he served until 1786. He married Hannah Plummer in 1783. When she died seven 
years later, Macon ended his brief withdrawal from political service by accepting 
election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1791. Rising steadily through the 
ranks, he began to attract the notice of James Madison and Jefferson, especially for 
his outspoken opposition to the Jay Treaty in 1 796 and the Sedition Act in 1 798. 



unique titles below. There is also a first-rate Web site on Jefferson with splendid images, certain primary 
texts, and an excellent biographical sketch. See http://www.monticeHo.org. 

4. The best source on Macon at Princeton and one of the two best biographical sketches of Macon 
available is Wesley Frank Craven, "Nathaniel Macon," in Princetonians: A Biographical Dictionary, 
volume 3: i 776-1 783, ed. Richard A. Harrison (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1981), 
230-236. See also William S. Price Jr., "Nathaniel Macon, Planter," North Carolina Historical Review 78 
(April 2001): 187-190. Macon likely studied under Pettigrew's classically based instruction for seven 
years. See William E. Dodd, The Life of Nathaniel Macon (Raleigh, N.C.: Edwards and Broughton, 1903), 
4-6. 

5. Price, "Nathaniel Macon, Planter," 191-194; Norman K. Risjord, The Old Republicans: Southern 
Conservatism in the Age of Jefferson (New York: Columbia University Press, 1965), 28-29; William S. 
Price Jr., "Nathaniel Macon, Antifederalist," North Carolina Historical Review 81 (July 2004): 293-296. 



Thomas Jefferson and Nathaniel Macon: A Republican Friendship 




Nathaniel Macon was born in 1758 in what would eventually become Warren County. He settled in northern 
Warren County at the end of 1 779, on land willed to him by his father. The plantation he built there, Buck Spring, 
was close to the Roanoke River and the prosperous town of Halifax. Macon remained at Buck Spring until his 
death in 1837. Photograph by William S. Price Jr., 1998. 



They saw him as the leader of what would develop into the Democratic- 
Republican (called Republican) Party in North Carolina, which would ultimately 
put both Jefferson, then Madison into the White House. 

A year after Jefferson's presidential win in 1800, Macon was elected Speaker of 
the House ot Representatives. He would be re-elected twice more until 1807. 
After losing the speakership, Macon allied himself with a group of congressmen, 
variously called Tertium Quid or Old Republicans, who generally opposed any 
measures that expanded federal power at the expense of the states or increased 
executive power as against legislative. While Macon's close friend John Randolph 
ot Roanoke was an Old Republican leader and an acerbic critic of his kinsman 



Nathaniel Macon: Three Views of His Character and Creed 



Thomas Jefferson from 1806 on, Macon never attacked the presidency with the 
relish of some of his fellow Quids. 

Macon chaired the Foreign Relations Committee of the House from 1809 to 
1810 and remained a respected figure in the whole chamber. In 1815, he 
reluctantly left the lower house for the Senate, where he attained prominence. He 
chaired the Foreign Relations Committee from 1818 to 1826 and was President 
Pro Tempore from 1826 until his resignation from the Senate in 1828. 

Back home in Buck Spring, Macon gratefully resumed the life of a planter and 
briefly returned to public service in the North Carolina Constitutional Con- 
vention of 1835 (where he was unanimously elected president), and in the 
national presidential contest of 1836 as an elector for his longtime friend Martin 
Van Buren. When he died the following year, he was mourned throughout his 
native state and the entire South. 6 

Both Jefferson and Macon were born and reared as British subjects at a time 
when loyalty to the Crown was assumed in the American colonies. They were 
nurtured in a society and culture grounded in certain British values, beliefs, and 
practices. To be sure, Americans early on modified and even rejected some Old 
World norms, but their basic concepts of law, civil rights, and politics were 
English. The British legacies of liberty and freedom from arbitrary government 
became touchstones of the growing American resistance to Crown policies after 
the end of the French and Indian War in 1763. That resistance would ultimately 
foster rebellion. 7 Jefferson reached manhood during the turbulent decade of the 
1760s (he was twenty years old in 1763), and young Macon began his schooling 
with a master who drilled his pupils in Greek and Latin texts that portrayed 
virtuous men struggling to defend liberty against tyrants. 8 

By 1775, of course, armed combat between Britain and its American colonies 
had begun. For revolutionaries, the fight was essential to secure a future free of the 

6. This summary relies heavily on the best modern biography of Macon, Stephen J. Barry, "Nathaniel 
Macon: The Prophet of Pure Republicanism, 1758-1837" (Ph.D. diss., State University of New York at 
Buffalo, 1995). For Clyde Wilson's excellent biographical sketch, see Dictionary of North Carolina 
Biography, s.v. "Macon, Nathaniel." Dodd's 1903 biography noted above is still quite useful but in need of 
updating, especially in light of Barry's research. In addition to the city of Macon, Georgia, and the town of 
Macon, North Carolina, there are counties named for Macon in Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, 
North Carolina, and Tennessee. 

7. Forrest McDonald, Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution (Lawrence: 
University Press of Kansas, 1985), 76-78; Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick, The Age of Federalism (New 
York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 6-7; Gordon S. Wood, The Creation of the American Republic, 
1776-1787 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1969), 48-53. 

8. Carl J. Richard, The Founders and the Classics: Greece, Rome, and the American Enlightenment 
(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995), 7-13, 45; Elkins and McKitrick, Age of Federalism, 
48; Price, "Nathaniel Macon, Planter," 188. Jefferson's admiration for classical Gteece and Rome is most 
stunningly displayed in his plan for the Univetsity of Virginia and his lifelong enjoyment of the literature 
of antiquity. See Jefferson to Peter Carr, January 21, 1812, in Peter S. Onuf, ed., Thomas Jefferson: An 
Anthology (St. James, N.Y.: Brandywine Press, 1999), 220; and Jefferson to Macon, January 12, 1819, in 
Ford, ed.", Writings of Jefferson, 10:120-12 1 . 



Thomas Jefferson and Nathaniel Macon: A Republican Friendship 




Like Macon, Thomas Jefferson supported a balanced government with a separation of powers between branches, 
and both men upheld the small-scale, landowning, independent yeoman as the model citizen in a government that 
honored individual merit. Jefferson applauded Macon's outspoken opposition to the Jay Treaty and the Sedition 
Act. Bust of Thomas Jefferson, 1789, by Jean-Antoine Houdon, reproduced courtesy of Monticello/Thomas 
Jefferson Foundation, Inc., Charlottesville, Virginia. 

corruption and decay that they believed had infected the British monarchy. 9 From 
the late seventeenth century over the ensuing nine decades, colonists became 
increasingly experienced in governing themselves and in honing their own 
political practices. As they contended with Crown-appointed governors, American 
political leaders not only became skillful legislators but also forged their own 

9. Lance Banning, The Jeffersonian Persuasion: Evolution of a Parly Ideology (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell 
University Press, 1978), 81; Wood, Creation of the American Republic, 31-33; Robert Dawidoff, The 
Education of John Randolph (New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1979), 150. 



Nathaniel Macon: Three Views of His Character and Creed 



elected lower houses of assembly into effective instruments for asserting their 
notions of home rule. Many colonists resented a governor's ability to dismiss a 
legislature as conferring undue power on an executive. The Crown's prerogative to 
review and disallow legislation progressed from being a minor irritant in the 1690s 
to a major affront by the 1770s. Indeed, of the seventeen charges leveled against 
George III in the Declaration of Independence, eleven touched in some way on 
royal attempts to curtail provincial legislative authority. 10 For many colonials, the 
increasing use of appointive offices and other governmental favors by Sir Robert 
Walpole during the reign of George II and continued by Walpole's ministerial 
successors into the rule of George III portended a British dominance that fostered 
vice before virtue and corruption before honor. Patronage and borough- 
manipulation had subverted Parliament and Crown alike, and many Americans 
began to see themselves as the true guardians of England's Glorious Revolution of 
the 1680s. 11 

As committed revolutionaries, Jefferson and Macon distrusted British rule and 
believed that constitutional safeguards would deter American government from 
mimicking the most repressive features of the colonial system. They wanted 
balanced governments with a separation of powers between branches, no 
hereditary offices or titles, annual legislative elections, limits on patronage, and 
strict curbs on executive prerogative. Jefferson and Macon (and many other 
Revolutionary leaders) upheld a republican system of government promoting 
political (but not social) equality as ideal. The small-scale, landowning, indepen- 
dent yeoman was the model citizen in a government that valued individual merit 
over any accident of birth. Macon believed that all government was inherently 
corrupt and that the extent of corruption was proportional to the size of the 
government and its distance from the governed. The further removed elected 
officials were from their voters, the more liable they were to malevolent 
lawmaking. There was more potential danger from a national government than a 
state, and more from a state government than a county. 12 

The American Revolution was and remained a defining moment for Jefferson 
and Macon. Whether serving as principal author of the Declaration of Indepen- 
dence or as a soldier in the ranks, each man throughout his long life remained 



10. Jack P. Greene, The Quest for Power: The Lower Houses of Assembly in the Southern Royal Colonies, 
1689-1776 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1963), 438-453; John Richard Alden, The 
American Revolution (New York: Harper Torchhooks, 1962), 150-163. 

1 1. Banning, Jeffersonian Persuasion, 73-75, 126; Wood, Creation of the American Republic, 57-58, 78-79; 
Dumas Malone, Jefferson and the Ordeal of Liberty (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1962), 265-266. 

12. McDonald, Novus Ordo Seclorum, 78; Wood, Creation of the American Republic, 48-53; Harry L. 
Watson, Liberty and Power: The Politics ofjacksonian America (New York: Noonday Press, 1990), 6, 43-46; 
Sean Wilent:, The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln (New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 
2005), 15-17, 36; Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," 170-171. 



Thomas Jefferson and Nathaniel Macon: A Republican Friendship 



Anglophobic and remembered the ordeal of 1776 as a glorious time when freedom 
overthrew tyranny. 13 

After the fighting ended, neither Jefferson nor Macon participated in the 
national constitution-making that ensued. Jefferson was in France as U.S. minister 
from 1785 to 1789, although he maintained an active correspondence with James 
Madison and others on constitutional matters, and Macon had withdrawn from 
politics after 1785*to develop his plantation and help to raise his young family. 
Macon's brother John was at the Hillsborough Convention of 1788 (chaired by 
Willie Jones), and the siblings surely would have discussed pertinent issues both 
before and after that body declined to ratify. Neither Jefferson nor Macon was 
enthusiastic about the Constitution of 1787. 14 

When Washington was installed as president of the United States in 1789, the 
Revolution's greatest hero asked Jefferson to join his cabinet as secretary of state; 
he did so early in 1790. Soon, he would confront his most formidable foe, 
Alexander Hamilton, secretary of the treasury. Hamilton was Jefferson's equal 
intellectually and his opposite in matters of federal consolidation, constitutional 
interpretation, economic programs, and policy toward England and France, 
positions that inevitably led to the formation of divergent political parties. It was 
in this pregnant atmosphere that Nathaniel Macon entered Congress in 1791. 15 
As Hamilton began to carry the day on such paramount issues as the assumption of 
state debts, creation of a national bank, encouragement of commerce and 
manufacturing, and a more conciliatory policy toward England (as France spiraled 
downward toward the blood-soaked Terror), Jefferson became increasingly 
alarmed, as did his fellow Virginian James Madison. Jefferson was profoundly 
worried that Washington — whom both Hamilton and Jefferson saw as a father 
figure — increasingly supported Hamilton's positions. As 1793 closed, Jefferson 
resigned from the cabinet in mounting frustration. 16 

13. Malone, Jefferson and the Ordeal of Liberty, 265-266; Price, "Nathaniel Macon, Antifederalist," 
293-294; Elkins and McKitrick, Age of Federalism, 209-210; Ellis, American Sphinx, 125. Among 
Jefferson's many anti-British statements, one of the most striking is in a letter to the Marquis de Lafayette 
of June 16, 1792, in Onuf, ed., Jefferson: An Anthology, 138-139; among Macon's many anti-British 
statements, one of the clearest is in Register of Debates, 19th Cong., 1st sess., 695-696. It is likewise 
instructive to read Jefferson's original draft of the Declaration of Independence — before Congress 
tempered much of its defiance — in Onuf, ed., Jefferson: An Anthology, 42-45. 

14- Banning, Jeffersonian Persuasion, 114n; Bailyn, To Begin the World Anew, 53-54; Price, "Nathaniel 
Macon, Antifederalist," 294-295. Jefferson expressed his lingering concerns about the federal 
constitution near the end of his life in 1821: "It is not by consolidation, or concentration of powers, but by 
their distribution, that good government is effected. . . . Were we directed from Washington when to 
sow, & when to reap, we should want bread." See Onuf, ed., Jefferson: An Anthology, 125. 

15. There is abundant literature on the Jefferson/Hamilton struggles. The best starting point is Elkins and 
McKitrick, Age of Federalism, 223-244, 257-263. 

16. Elkins and McKitrick, Age of Federalism, 211, 284-292; Don Higginbotham, Revolution in 
America: Considerations and Comparisons (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2005), 42; Don 
Higginbotham, George Washington : Uniting a Nation (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Lirrlefield Publishers, 
2002), 66, 82-83. 



Nathaniel Macon: Three Views of His Character and Creed 



He communicated regularly with an alarmed Madison in Congress and, freed 
from his official duties, sharpened his arguments against the centralizing policies 
of Hamilton and Washington. This period saw the growth of Democratic - 
Republican societies throughout the country, the widespread opposition to the 
federal excise tax on whiskey that generated the short-lived Whiskey Rebellion, 
and a widening divide between Hamiltonian warmth toward England and 
Jeffersonian predilection for France. Though many Americans, like George 
Washington, despised the notion of political parties, they were compelled to 
choose sides — with Hamilton and the Federalists or with Jefferson and the 
Republicans. Macon chose the latter. With the election of John Adams as 
president in 1796 and Washington's retirement to Mount Vernon, party divisions 
were out in the open. 17 

During the 1790s, the establishment of distinctly Federalist and Republican 
newspapers heightened partisanship. The two most influential journals were based 
in Philadelphia. John Fenno's Gazette of the United States was pro-Federalist, and 
Philip Freneau's National Gazette, pro-Republican. Both offered strong editorial 
opinions, and Fenno sometimes printed Alexander Hamilton's pieces under a 
pseudonym, as was the customary practice. Freneau likewise offered space for 
James Madison and other friends of Jefferson to air their views. Wrapped in his 
lifelong aversion to open confrontation, Jefferson frequently fed ideas to Madison 
or James Monroe but did not assume a pen name himself. Madison had recruited 
Freneau, and Jefferson had given him a minor post in the State Department, so 
there was little doubt about who was supporting the National Gazette, just as there 
was little mystery about Hamilton's role in Fenno's paper. 1S Having experienced 
the "newspaper war" of 1792 and beyond as a young congressman, Nathaniel 
Macon deeply appreciated the political influence of a partisan press, and he was 
instrumental in establishing the Raleigh Register in 1799 under the skilled 
editorship of Joseph Gales. With his firm belief in Antifederalist principles, Macon 
remained a lifelong advocate of a free press as an essential defense against abuses 
by government and individuals. 19 

17. Elkins and McKitrick, Age of Federalism, 451-488; Banning, Jeffersonian Persuasion, 246; Saul Cornell, 
The Other Founders: Andfederalism and the Dissenting Tradition in America, 1788-1828 (Chapel Hill: 
University of North Carolina Press, 1999), 177-178; Cunningham, In Pursuit of Reason, 171; Thomas P. 
Abemathy, The South in the New Nation, 1789-1819 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 
1961 ), 40, 128. As usual, Jeffetson's own cottespondence richly documents these matters. See Jefferson 
to James Madison, December 28, 1794, and Jefferson to Philip Ma::ei, April 24, 1796, in Onuf, ed., 
Jefferson: An Anthology, 152-155. 

18. Elkins and McKitrick, Age of Federalism, 282-288; Banning, Jeffersonian Persuasion, 167; Bailyn, To 
Begin the World Anew, 37-38. One scholar calls the 1790s a decade "when the political bloodletting 
seems to have been as harsh and shrill as at any time in our history." See Higginbotham, Revolution in 
America, 47. 

19. Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," 67; Price, "Nathaniel Macon, Antifederalist," 300; Cornell, The Other 
Founders, 30-31, 106. 



Thomas Jefferson and Nathaniel Macon: a Republican Friendship 




Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton argued tor the creation of a national hank, the expansion of 
commerce and manufacturing, and a more conciliatory policy toward England. Jefferson worried that Washington 
increasingly supported Hamilton's positions. Frustrated with these developments, he resigned his cabinet position 
in 1793. Original portrait of Alexander Hamilton hy Thomas Hamilton Crawford, 1860; published by Frost and 
Reed in 1932 (digital photograph from Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C). 



10 Nathaniel Macon: Three Views of His Character and Creed 



Shortly before Washington's retirement, one issue in particular had sharpened 
the division between Federalists and Republicans — the Jay Treaty. In the spring of 
1794, Washington, in close consultation with Hamilton, had dispatched chief 
justice and Federalist leader John Jay to England to seek a treaty in which the 
British would abandon their remaining military posts in the Northwest, compen- 
sate American shippers for losses through naval seizures, pay American slave- 
holders for their property carried away in 1783, and allow unfettered commerce 
with the British West Indies. What Jay negotiated was less than satisfactory, even 
to some New England Federalists. England gained not only most-favored nation 
trading status but also the right to define neutrality in the ongoing dilemma of an 
America caught between the warring ships of Britain and France. Although 
England agreed to abandon its Northwest outposts by 1796 and to compensate 
recent American shipping losses, the concessions in the lucrative West Indian 
trade were so weak that the Senate ultimately rejected them. Finally, British 
claims for losses in the American Revolution could be claimed and paid by the 
American government, if so adjudicated, but planters' slave losses were not to be 
compensated. 20 

In the South, the Jay Treaty was the most despised feature of the Washington 
presidency, especially in North Carolina. Article IX of the treaty permitted British 
citizens to hold land in the U.S. Because North Carolina had earlier confiscated 
the immense holdings of Lord Granville in the northern half of the state, North 
Carolinians were deeply concerned about the future status of such real property. 
The treaty was just barely ratified by the two-thirds majority required in the 
Senate, and then the House was asked to appropriate funds to implement it. 21 
Early in 1796 on the floor of the House, Nathaniel Macon spoke out against 
funding and said that thwarting the treaty was more important to his state than 
even the Declaration of Independence. After a hard fight, during which Macon 
earned the gratitude of Madison and other Republicans, the appropriation carried 
at the end of April. Only one member of the North Carolina delegation, ardent 
Federalist William Barry Grove of Fayetteville, voted for it. With Macon's 
growing prominence in Congress, North Carolina was moving steadily into the 
Republican ranks, with one brief interruption in 1798, when anti-French passions 
ran high. 22 

The radicalism of the French Revolutionaries, the British navy's growing 
insistence on preventing commerce between neutral nations and France, and the 

20. Elkins and McKitrick, Age of Federalism, 396-414. 

21. Abernathy, The South in the New Nation, 132-133, 225; Elkins and McKitrick, Age of Federalism, 
415-426. 

22. Delhert Harold Gilpatrick, Jeffersonian Democracy in North Carolina, 1 789-1816 (New York: 
Columbia University Press, 1931), 79-82; Dodd, Life of Nathaniel Macon, 86-87; Barry, "Nathaniel 
Macon," 41. Federalists won control of the state senate in 1798. 



Thomas Jefferson and Nathaniel Macon: A Republican Friendship 1 1 




Virginia congressman James Madison shared Jefferson's alarm over the centralizing policies of Hamilton and 
Washington. Under a pen name, he frequently contributed strong editorial opinions to Philip Freneau's pro- 
Republican National Gazette. Original portrait of Madison by Gilbert Stuart; published by Pendleton's 
Lithography, ca. 1828 (digital photograph from Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress). 

inexorable rise of Bonaparte were enormous problems for the still-young United 
States all through John Adams's presidency. Bitter partisan struggles at home 
exacerbated by international tensions split Republicans and Federalists even 
further. The Alien and Sedition Acts were symptomatic of these times. 

By 1798, U.S. relations with France had degenerated into undeclared war on 
the open seas. America was plagued by the chaotic state of the French govern- 
ment, which was racked by internal and external enemies, as well as Gallic 
resentment over British gains through the Jay Treaty. President Adams tried to 
steer a careful course, but Hamiltonian allies in his own party demanded strong 
action. Congress increased the size of the army and ordered ships for the navy as 
appropriations — and the taxes to fund them — swelled. Republicans resented and 
resisted these measures, but they could not deny that the French government was 
far different than their ally of twenty years earlier or even just five years earlier, 
when something like a republic led by the beloved Lafayette might have 
prevailed. 23 

23. Elkins and McKitrick, Age of Federalism, 581-588. Macon consistently opposed the military and naval 
buildup in this period. Professional armies invited executive branch abuses and corrupt speculation by 



12 Nathaniel Macon : Three Views of His Character and Creed 



In this heated atmosphere, the Federalist-dominated Congress enacted four 
measures in the summer of 1798 that Republicans felt were aimed directly at them 
and their supporters — the Alien and Sedition Acts. Three of the four bills 
comprising the acts manifested anger at resident foreigners, especially the French 
and Irish, who appeared to support Republicans. The legislation more than 
doubled the residence period required for citizenship and authorized the president 
to expel dangerous aliens. In truth, no one was ever deported under these 
measures, but their very passage — and Adams's acquiescence in them — infuriated 
Republicans. Macon opposed the bills heartily on the grounds that they perilously 
enhanced executive powers. 

A far greater threat than the Alien Acts was the Sedition Law. It forbade any 
conspiracy or combination directed at the federal government and prohibited 
writing, publishing, or speaking falsely or maliciously against the government. 
The highly partisan measure aimed at punishing the Republican press. Of the 
fourteen prosecutions that occurred under the law, all were aimed at Republicans. 
The only two Republican newspapers in New York City went out of business during 
this period, and every Republican publisher in the country felt threatened. 25 

In such an environment, Nathaniel Macon asserted himself more boldly than 
ever. He said in the initial debate on the Sedition Bill that it clearly violated the 
Constitution and added, "Laws of restraint, like this . . . always operate in a 
contrary direction from that which they were intended to take. The people suspect 
something is not right, when free discussion is feared by Government." Later in 
July, when the Senate's version of the bill came to the House, Macon continued to 
argue that it was unconstitutional. Review the ratification debate in the states, he 
advised. No prosecutions for libel by the national government were to occur: "Not 
a single member in any of the conventions gave an opinion to the contrary." Each 
state might choose to deal with libel through its own laws, but Congress could 
not. 26 Although the legislation passed, Republicans now had a rallying point that 

civilian contractors. Navies were an undue tax burden that principally served mercantile, not agrarian, 
interests. He commended the role of Revolutionary War militias and privateers as the model for 
American defense against foreign enemies. See Annals of Congress, 5th Cong., 2nd sess., 1384-1386, 
1465-1466, 1505-1507, 1671-1674, 1698-1699, 1756-1757. 

24. Elkins and McKitrick, Age of Federalism, 591-592, 694-700; Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," 52. In North 
Carolina, anger at France had increased the power of Federalists in the state, and tour of the ten 
congressmen elected in 1798 were Federalists. Still, William Barry Grove was the only member of the 
delegation to vote for the Alien and Sedition Acts. See James H. Broussard, "The North Carolina 
Federalists, 1800-1816," North Carolina Historical Review 55 (January 1978): 18-22; and Gilpatrick, 
Jeffersonian Democracy in North Carolina, 82, 91-92. 

25. Elkins and McKitrick, Age of Federalism, 700-705; Banning, Jeffersonian Persuasion, 255-257; Joyce 
Appleby, A Restless Past: History and the American Public (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littletield 
Publishers, 2005), 24; Cornell, The Other Founders, 231. 

26. Annals of Congress, 5th Cong., 2nd sess., 2105-2106, 2151-2152. When Macon introduced a bill to 
repeal the Sedition Act early in 1800, he said, "The press is among the best gifts bestowed on man, its 
benefits are incalculable." See Annals of Congress, 6th Cong., 1st sess., 406, 



Thomas Jefferson and Nathaniel Macon: A Republican Friendship 1 3 




By 179S, during the presidency of John Adams, U.S. relations with France had degenerated into undeclared war 
on the open seas. President Adams tried to steer a careful course, hut the Federalist-dominared Congress enacted 
tour measures in the summer of 179S that Repuhlicansfelt were aimed directly at them and their supporters — the 
Alien and Sedition Acts. Adams's support for these hills infuriated Republicans, including Macon, who helieved 
that they perilously enhanced executive powers. Portrait of Adams by Gilbert Stuart; engraving published by 
Pendleton's Lithography, ca. 1828 (digital photograph from American Memory, Library of Congress). 

strengthened party loyalty. Albert Gallatin of Pennsylvania had succeeded 
Madison as Republican leader by 1797, and he and Macon became fast friends. 
Jefferson and Madison watched these developments closely and began to 
formulate their own rejoinders to what they saw as Federalist threats to a free 
government. 27 By the fall of 1798, Jefferson had written what would become a 
landmark in the formulation of a Republican creed — the Kentucky Resolutions. 
The draft of the resolutions written in October asserted the rights of individual 
states to control their internal affairs and stressed that the federal government had 
specific powers defined by the Constitution — and no others. The initial resolution 



27. Banning, feffersonian Persuasion, 249, 257; Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," 53-54, 57, 89; Malone, 
Jefferson and the Ordeal of Liberty, 395; Raymond Walters Jr., Albert Gallatin: ]effersonian Financier and 
Diplomat (New York: Macmillan Co., 1957), 213. 



14 Nathaniel Macon: Three Views of His Character and Creed 



declared that "the several States composing the United States are not united on 
the principle of unlimited submission to their General Government." Jefferson 
then proceeded to detail how the Alien and Sedition Acts were unconstitutional. 
In the eighth resolution, he argued: " where powers are assumed [by the General 
Government] which have not been delegated, a nullification of the act is the 
rightful remedy." The Alien and Sedition Acts, "unless arrested at the threshold, 
necessarily drive [the] States into revolution and blood." 28 

Jefferson had been wary of federal consolidation prior to ratification in 1787, 
and his subsequent experiences with Alexander Hamilton's loose interpretation 
of the Constitution had only underscored his concerns. Now in 1798, the 
Federalists' attack on individual freedoms led Jefferson to argue heatedly for severe 
limits on the national government. Indeed, when he sent his draft of the 
resolutions to James Madison, the younger man advised him to omit references to 
nullification and other overblown elements of the document. As finally adopted 
by the Kentucky legislature, the resolutions were milder than what Jefferson had 
originally proposed. 29 

Jefferson initially hoped that his resolutions would be adopted in North 
Carolina. In June 1798, John Taylor of Caroline had proposed that Virginia and 
its southern neighbor withdraw from the Union and form their own compact, but 
Jefferson rejected that idea on the grounds that future arguments between the two 
states would inevitably lead to further division. When North Carolinians, who 
deplored French interference in the Caribbean trade, turned their support to the 
Federalists, Jefferson accepted John Breckinridge's offer to introduce the 
resolutions in the Kentucky legislature. 30 

When no other state legislature adopted either the Kentucky Resolutions or 
Madison's more moderate Virginia Resolutions of December 1798, Jefferson 
staked out a doctrine of resistance to consolidation and affirmed the vital necessity 
of a local voice in governance. Early in 1799, he further refined these views in a 
letter to Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, espousing strict interpretation of the 
Constitution; opposition to "monarchical" tendencies that enhanced either the 
president or the Senate; promotion of frugality and simplicity in government; 
reduction of public debt; reliance on militias for defense "till actual invasions"; a 
small navy; "free commerce with all nations, political connections with none"; 
freedom of the press; and freedom of religion, including opposition to "a legal 

28. Onuf, ed., Jefferson: An Anthology, 159-164. 

29. Onuf, ed., Jefferson: An Anthology, 159-160; Malone, Jefferson and the Ordeal of Liberty, 402; Ellis, 
American Sphinx, 179. As was often the case, Jefferson's authorship of the resolutions was not widely 
known at the time. 

30. Jefferson to John Taylor of Caroline, June 4, 1798, in Onuf, ed., Jefferson: An Anthology, 155-157; 
Abernathy, The South in the New Nation, 232-236; Malone, Jefferson and the Ordeal of Liberty, 401-402; 
Cornell, The Other Founders, 245. 



Thomas Jefferson and Nathaniel Macon: A Republican Friendship 1 5 



ascendancy of one sect over another." When the Old Republicans began their 
break with Jefferson after 1805, they would hearken back to the "Spirit of '98" that 
the Gerry letter enunciated so clearly. Nathaniel Macon would endorse those 
principles, for they were already his own. For both men, the 1790s had been a 
decade when the ideals of individual liberty and political accountability so central 
to the American Revolution had been eroded and threatened. Jefferson, and to a 
lesser extent Macon, were less states' rights advocates in the way that southerners 
of the 1850s would be than men who supported state sovereignty at a time when 
the federal government seemed to be leaning toward monarchy. 11 

With Jefferson's election as president in 1800 and Republican control of 
Congress, the "Revolution of 1800," as Jefferson would call it years later, was 
under way. In the House of Representatives, Nathaniel Macon was elected 
Speaker late in 1801, and he eventually elevated John Randolph of Roanoke to 
chairmanship of the powerful Ways and Means Committee. The Seventh 
Congress, with Macon in the Speaker's chair, approved a bill to completely retire 
the public debt by 1817, reduced the army to three thousand troops, and cut naval 
appropriations. As Macon's ally Joseph Nicholson of Maryland said in the first 
session, "It is no part of our political creed that a public debt is a public blessing." 32 
The "Spirit of '98" was being put into practice. 

Months earlier, just after Jefferson was installed as president (which was carried 
out with little fanfare in marked contrast to the inauguration of John Adams), 
Nathaniel Macon had written to his friend: "Suffer me to say to you that the 
people expect — That Levees will be done way / That the communication to the 
next Congress will be by letter not a speech / That we have too many ministers in 
Europe / . . . That the army might be safely reduced. ... In fact that a system of 
economy is to be adopted and pursued with energy." 33 

Jefferson's response on May 14, 1801, delighted Macon: "Levees are done away. 
The first communication to the next Congress will be, like all subsequent ones, by 
message, to which no answer will be expected. The diplomatic establishment in 
Europe will be reduced to three ministers." Both Macon's April letter and the 
president's reply grew directly out of their creed: wariness of the executive and any 
tendencies toward monarchical practices, as well as frugality — leading to lower 
taxes — in the operations of government. Both Jefferson and Macon disliked the 

31. Jefferson to Elhridge Gerry, January 26, 1799, in Onuf, ed., Jefferson: An Anthology, 164-169; 
Cunningham, In Pursuit of Reason, 166; Malone, Jefferson and the Ordeal of Liberty, 409; Ellis, American 
Sphinx, 254. 

32. Wilent:, The Rise of American Democracy, 98; Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," 78-79; Banning, Jeffersonian 
Persuasion, 277. 

33. Macon to Jefferson, April 20, 1801, Jefferson Papers; Wilent:, The Rise of American Democracy, 95. 
On Inauguration Day, Jefferson, in a plain suit and with his hair unpowdered, walked from his lodgings 
to the Capitol and was sworn in. 



16 Nathaniel Macon: Three Views of His Character and Creed 



formal receptions (called levees) conducted by Washington and then Adams, 
which they scorned as a despicable aspect of Crown rule. Macon also felt that 
presidents should respect the separate branch status of Congress by avoiding 
personal appearances there. Because Jefferson's public speaking abilities were 
notoriously weak, and he heartily rejected royalist pretensions, he undoubtedly 
welcomed Macon's suggestion to communicate with the legislative branch in 
writing. 34 

It was in this atmosphere that Jefferson's supporters, who detested the pro- 
British sympathies among many Federalists, believed their Revolution of 1800 had 
reasserted the values of the American Revolution. John Randolph of Roanoke 
spoke for Macon and others when he recalled Jefferson's first term, especially its 
first two years, "as the true republican interlude in American government." 35 
During Jefferson's first four years as president, he and Macon were more closely 
bound than they ever would be by creed and politics. They shared a disdain for 
undue enhancement of the executive, distrust of a professional army and navy, 
dread of debt and financial speculation, faith in the good sense of most Americans 
living and working on their own farms, and respect for the rights and necessity of 
state sovereignty. Jefferson confronted the problems and opportunities of 
presidential leadership with his keen intellect and ambition, and he inevitably 
altered some of his views in his second term, but Macon continued to maintain 
and assert those early principles throughout his life, reflecting not only his 
legislative-branch perspective but also his deepest political convictions. 

As Jefferson faced the complex tasks of governing a nation, he reevaluated 
many of his earlier criticisms of the presidency. His policies on foreign relations, 
Indians, territorial expansion, and promoting commerce and manufacturing — 
despite his agrarian ideals — often troubled his political allies. He seemed disposed 
to let the issues of 1 798 fade away as the actualities of his office and the bitter 
opposition of Federalists sank in. ,(l During 1805, Jefferson's cousin and Macon 
intimate John Randolph of Roanoke was ready to break with the president. 
Randolph had been troubled by the scheming and fraud that surrounded the Yazoo 
land speculations in Georgia. Jefferson tried to settle the dispute because investors 
were from various states, not just one. But the definitive split between the two 
men came in December, when the president sought two million dollars from 

34. Jefferson to Macon, May 14, 1801, Jefferson Papers; Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," 75; Cunningham, In 
Pursuit of Reason, 247, 257. Cunningham writes that Jefferson ahandoned the practice of delivering the 
annual message to Congress in person less because of his poor speaking voice than because of Macon's 
letter. Presidents maintained this practice until 1913. 

35. Dawidoff, Education of John Randolph, 156, 172; Malone, Jefferson and the Ordeal of Liberty, 265-266; 
Wilent:, The Rise of American Democracy, 172. 

36. Risjord, Old Republicans, 24; Wilentz, The Rise of American Democracy, 104-108; Banning, Jeffersonian 
Persuasion, 284-285. 



Thomas Jefferson and Nathaniel Macon: A Republican Friendship 17 



Congress to obtain West Florida from Spain by involving agents of Napoleon's 
government. From then on, Randolph became a near-inflexible opponent of any 
of Jefferson's initiatives. Allied with Randolph was a group of a half dozen or so 
adherents of the "Spirit of '98," including Nathaniel Macon, soon dubbed Quids 
or Old Republicans.' 7 

Although Macon was Randolph's lifelong friend — and lost a fourth term as 
Speaker largely because he refused to abandon his quick-tempered comrade — he 
never hesitated to differ with Randolph when he felt the need. Indeed, it is not a 
simple matter to define Macon as a Quid. Conservative, yes; wary of presidential 
power, yes; a devotee of the "Spirit of '98," to be sure; yet Macon never thoroughly 
broke with Jefferson as Randolph did. Macon did not hesitate to vote with the 
president when he agreed with his proposals.' 8 There is a telling letter from the 
president to the Speaker during a time when the Old Republicans were asserting 
themselves early in 1806: "Some enemy, whom we know not, is sowing tares 
among us. Between you & myself nothing but opportunities of explanation can be 
necessary to defeat those endeavors. At least on my part, my confidence in you is 
so unqualified that nothing further is necessary tor my satisfaction. I must 
therefore ask a conversation with you. This evening my company may stay late: 
but tomorrow evening, or the next I can be alone." Whether or not Macon 
accepted the invitation is unknown, but Jefferson's sentiments demonstrate a 
level of affection and respect that honored Macon and that he, without fanfare, 
reciprocated. 39 

Jefferson's second term in the White House was complicated by growing 
tensions with England, locked as it was in the Napoleonic Wars. In the summer of 
1807, a British warship fired on the American Chesapeake off the Virginia capes, 
killing three and wounding eighteen. The nation was incensed, and the president 
shared in the anger and wanted a forceful response. However, Jefferson was fully 
aware that the United States could not challenge Britain on the high seas. With 
the encouragement of Secretary of State James Madison, the president late in 1807 
proposed an embargo that would prohibit all maritime trade with foreign nations. 

37. Abernathy, The South in the New Nation, 313-314; Wilentz, The Rise of American Democracy, 108, 124; 
Dawidoff, Education of John Randolph, 200. 

38. Richard E. Ellis, The Jeffersonian Crisis: Courts and Politics in the Young Republic (New York: Oxford 
University Press, 1971), 237; Risjord, Old Republicans, 65-66. On Macon's friendship with Randolph, see 
Price, "Nathaniel Macon, Planter," 199-201, 204- The two men frequently lodged together in the same 
hoardinghouse in Washington when Congress was in session and spent many pleasant evenings enjoying 
the hospitality of Albert Gallatin in his gracious home on Capitol Hill. See Walters, Albert Gallatin, 148; 
and Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," 89, 95. 

39. Jefferson to Macon, March 26, 1806, in Ford, ed., Writings of Thomas Jefferson, 8:439; Dumas Malone, 
Jefferson the President: Second Term, 1805-1809 (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1974), 112. Jefferson 
often used informal dinners at the White House to discuss matters with allies and others. He used a 
dumbwaiter to serve dishes himself so that not even servants would disturb — or overhear — private 
conversations. See Young, The Washington Community, 168-170. 



18 Nathaniel Macon: Three Views of His Character and Creed 



Jefferson reasoned that, it nothing else, the embargo would buy time for America 
to prepare for war. Congress quickly enacted the measure, but it began to unravel 
almost immediately. Mercantile interests, especially in the Northeast, regularly 
circumvented the prohibitions. Early in 1809, as Jefferson's presidency drew to a 
close, a congressional alliance of New Englanders, New Yorkers, and southern 
Quids put an end to the embargo. When Jefferson left the White House in March 
1809, he was relieved to be retiring from the political fray. As he wrote to a friend 
shortly before relinquishing office, "Within a few days I retire to my family, my 
books, and farms; and having gained the harbor myself, I shall look to my friends 
still buffeting the storm, with anxiety indeed, but not with envy. Never did a 
prisoner, released from his chains, feel such relief as I shall on shaking off the 
shackles of power." As a recent biographer of Jefferson notes, "[His] second term 
had proved as disastrous as his first term had been glorious." He would never return 
to Washington. 40 

Unlike Randolph, who initially supported the embargo then vehemently 
resisted it, Macon endorsed the measure. He missed voting for it in 1807 because 
of illness, but he always favored the embargo as the most pragmatic approach to 
rebutting England. British depredations at sea inflamed Macon, who considered 
the attack on the Chesapeake to be an act of war. Still, he opposed raising a navy as 
impractical as well as too expensive. The nation would do better to contract with 
privateers than to assume the costs of ship and port construction, salaried officers 
and men, supply depots, and more. Although he supported Jefferson on the 
embargo, Macon opposed his plan to outfit a series of defensive (and relatively 
inexpensive) gunboats to protect coastal waters. What he objected to was not the 
boats themselves, but rather that the legislation authorized the president to man 
the vessels without first seeking congressional approval. 41 

Shortly after Jefferson's retirement, Macon said, "I feel no hesitation in saying 
that the nation will never be blessed with another such administration as the last." 
Despite this warm assessment, Macon refused to budge from his lifelong opposition 
to special favors. He was the sole member of Congress to oppose granting Jefferson 
postal franking privileges when he left office, and he was one of only fifteen 
Republicans to vote against purchasing the contents of the great man's personal 
library to replace losses after the British set fire to Washington during the War of 
1812. No doubt Jefferson viewed Macon's votes as perfectly consistent with the 



40. Wilentz, The Rise of American Democracy, 130-135; Jefferson to P. S. Dupont de Nemours, March 2, 
1809, in Onuf, ed., Jefferson: An Anthology, 212 (first quotation); Ellis, American Sphinx, 238 (second 
quotation). 

41. Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," 124-128; Annals of Congress, 10th Cong., lstsess., 1028-1029; Macon to 
Albert Gallatin, July 12, 1807, Albert Gallatin Papers, New-York Historical Society, New York City 
(photocopies in State Archives, North Carolina Office of Archives and History, Raleigh). 



Thomas Jefferson and Nathaniel Macon: A Republican Friendship 19 



North Carolinian's continued stances against anything that smacked of favoritism. 
In a republic, no citizen stood above others. 42 

Back home in Monticello, Jefferson settled into the relative quiet of the 
mountaintop estate, in marked contrast to his life in Washington. Yet he was far 
from being isolated. Surrounded by family and a large slave population, Jefferson 
had plenty of human contact. Moreover, there was a steady flow of guests and 
tourists ranging from foreign dignitaries to curious travelers hoping for a glimpse of 
the great man. Some nights as many as fifty people gathered under his roof. In 
addition to this traffic during the warm-weather months, Jefferson also main- 
tained a massive correspondence. He received more than a thousand letters each 
year (in 1820, he counted 1,267 of them) and spent three or four hours daily 
responding to them. In his last decade, he devoted most of his time to establishing 
the University of Virginia in nearby Charlottesville. From rallying political 
support, to designing buildings, to defining curriculum, to hiring faculty, Jefferson 
was involved in every major — and many minor — aspects of an enterprise that he 
came to see as a crowning achievement. 43 

Jefferson became increasingly alarmed about the nation's welfare after the War 
of 1812. With the peace in 1815, divisions between an expanding commercial 
North and a predominantly agrarian South became more starkly evident with 
each passing year. With westward expansion, new territories began applying for 
admission as states, and the country confronted issues about the legal status of 
slavery. When Missouri sought statehood in 1819, a congressman from New York 
proposed that slavery ultimately be prohibited there. Over the next year, the 
debates that swirled around this question exposed a deep rift in the country that 
would culminate with the Civil War. Both Jefferson and Macon feared that as the 
federal government further consolidated power, states — especially slave states — 
would gradually lose the power to manage their internal affairs. They firmly 
believed that emancipation would lead to chaos and anarchy. 44 



42. Dumas Malone, The Sage of Monticello (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1981), 24, 178; J. Jefferson 
Looney, ed., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series, 3 vols, to date (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton 
University Press, 2004- ), 1:19 In, 349; Price, "Nathaniel Macon, Planter," 211. 

43. Ellis, American Sphinx, 232, 280-287; Onuf, ed., Jefferson: An Anthology, 240-244- 

44. Wilent:, The Rise of American Democracy, 221-230; Ellis, American Sphinx, 264-268; Barry, 
"Nathaniel Macon," 219-222. Like many American Revolutionaries, Jefferson and Macon deplored the 
existence ot slavery hut embraced it through their ownership of slaves (whom they believed to be racially 
interior) and as a given of plantation economy and culture. There are many studies of Jefferson and slavery. 
The best starting point is Winthrop D. Jordan, White over Black: American Attitudes toward the Negro, 
1550-1812 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1968), 429-481. For an informative, 
concise view, see Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Eugene D. Genovese, The Mind of the Master Class: History 
and Faith in the Southern Slaveholders' Worldview (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 78-80. 
See pages 5 and 69 for the Genoveses' instructive perspective on viewing slaveholdets in the context of 
their own times. On Macon's views, see Price, "Nathaniel Macon, Plantet," 201-204. 



20 Nathaniel Macon: Three Views of His Character and Creed 



During the debates in 1820, Senator Macon argued that the federal govern- 
ment had no right to prohibit slavery in Missouri and that the voters there should 
ultimately decide the institution's fate. "Why leave the road of experience which 
has satisfied all, and made all happy, to take this new way of which we have no 
experience? The way leads to universal emancipation of which we have no 
experience," Macon said. He also rejected the idea that Jefferson's "all men are 
created equal" phrase of 1776 applied to the Missouri debates, asking, "follow that 
sentiment, and does it not lead to universal emancipation? If it will justify putting 
an end to slavery in Missouri, will it not justify it in the old States?" 45 

Back at Monticello, Jefferson had followed the debates with growing alarm and 
agitation. More than one visitor commented on how disturbed the old man was by 
the whole enterprise. After a year of turmoil, a congressional compromise in 
March 1820 admitted Maine and Missouri into the Union as free and slave states, 
respectively, and prohibited slavery in future northern territories. In April, 
Jefferson wrote to John Holmes of Maine, "this momentous question, like a fire 
bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it as the knell of 
the Union. It is hushed, indeed for the moment. But this is a reprieve only, not a 
final sentence." After briefly expressing a hope that in the future some general 
emancipation might be effected, Jefferson articulated the dilemma facing every 
defender of slavery: "we have the wolf by the ears, and we can neither hold him, nor 
safely let him go. Justice is in the one scale, and self-preservation in the other." 46 

After the Missouri Compromise, Jefferson lived six more years, and Macon 
served eight more years in the Senate. Each man continued in his role as a planter, 
an admired political sage, and a valued correspondent in what they both called 
their "old age." They never abandoned their commitment to the Union formed in 
the American Revolution, but both clearly feared for the future of their region and 
for their vision of the liberty won from England in 1783. For Jefferson as well as 
Macon, a deep aversion to remote authority and its power lay at the core of the 
Revolutionary legacy. They watched uneasily as the nation they helped to launch 
began to expand economically and geographically after 1815. Both feared that 
increased federal power and burgeoning national expenditures would lead to the 
corruption they had so despised in royal government. 47 



45. Annals of Congress, 16th Cong., lstsess., 225-226; Wilentz, The Rise of American Democracy , 230-232; 
Price, "Nathaniel Macon, Antifederalist," 309. 

46. John Chester Miller, The Wolf by the Ears: Thomas Jefferson and Slavery (New York: The Free Press, 
1977), 228-233; Jefferson to John Holmes, April 22, 1820, in Onuf, ed., Jefferson: An Anthology, 244-245. 
As early as 1818, Macon had told Battlett Yancey that emancipation "will destroy our beloved mother 
N. Carolina and all the South country." Quoted in Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," 209. 

47. Ellis, American Sphinx, 295-296; Bailyn, To Begin the World Anew, 55; Watson, Liberty and Power, 8. 



Thomas Jefferson and Nathaniel Macon: A Republican Friendship 21 



iNATHANAEL MACON, * 

* of Warren County, £ 

* NORTH-CAROLINA. % 

* K° ♦ 
t. * 

5A*.^*.tAi4..^+,K-*+*4'4'*4'4 , **4'4 , ****++ 



This copy of Macon's bookplate is from an eighteenth-century volume ot satirical verse in the author's collection 
and matches that of some hooks held by the North Carolina Museum of History. The bookplate features the 
Latinized spelling of "Nathanael," as opposed to the Hehrew-inspited "Nathaniel." Macon, whom Jefferson called 
"the last of the Romans" and whom Thomas Hart Benton called "the real Cincinnatus of America," possibly chose 
this bookplate to teflect his admiration ot the Roman past. 

For example, Jefferson wrote to an associate late in 1825, "I see, as you do, with 
the greatest affliction, the rapid strides with which the federal government is 
advancing towards the usurpation of all the rights reserved to the States." He then 
went on to berate the executive and judicial branches for their loose interpreta- 
tion of the Constitution and the Congress for not standing up to them. Yet he 
equally opposed any hot-tempered talk of dissolution: "That must be the last 
resource." For now, the states had to patiently hope that the sheer accumulation of 
federal wrongs would bring the nation's electorate to its senses. Less than three 
years later, Macon echoed some of these sentiments in notes written for remarks 
he delivered in his last year in the Senate: "Every extension of power by construction 
makes the operation of government more unequal, the [Constitutional] convention 
aware of this gave but few powers, that convention knew [the] difficulty of 
managing an unlimited federative Govt. — a majority may be tyrants." He also 
said, " I have loved [the] Union [and] wish to die loving it." 48 Old Revolutionaries 
like Jefferson and Macon could sense the prospect of a future civil war, and they 
dreaded it. They were still "union men" and hoped that a reconciliation between 
the nation and the states might yet be effected. Jefferson and Macon never 
wavered in upholding a cardinal principle of the Revolution — that the people were 
sovereign and that their good sense would finally prevail. 49 



48. Jefferson to William Branch Giles, December 26, 1825, in Onuf, ed., Jefferson: An Anthology, 253- 
254; undated [hut likely 1828) notes in Macon's hand in [Catherine Clark Pendleton Conway Collection, 
Private Collections, State Archives. 

49. Wood, Creation of the American Republic, 614; Ellis, American Sphinx, 9-10. Macon's stance is more 
fully treated in Price, "Nathaniel Macon, Antifederalist," 307-310. Also see Macon's comments at the 
1835 Constitutional Convention in Proceedings and Debates of the Convention of North-Carolina Called to 
Amend the Constitution of the State, which Assembled at Raleigh, June 4, 1835 (Raleigh, N.C.: Joseph Gales 
and Son, 1836), 176-177. 



22 Nathaniel Macon: Three Views of His Character and Creed 



Jefferson and Macon maintained an intermittent, cordial correspondence after 
1815. Whatever wounds there were from Jefferson's second term and Macon's loss 
of the speakership had healed. Interestingly, their letters resumed because of art, 
not politics. On January 7, 1816, Macon wrote to Monticello asking Jefferson to 
recommend a sculptor for a full-size statue of George Washington to be placed in 
the Capitol in Raleigh. The artist should preferably be an American of top quality, 
but if no such person existed, then a European, surely Italian. Macon concluded 
warmly, "That the evening of your life may be as happy as the meridian has been 
useful, is [my] sincere prayer." A seven-year silence between the two now broken, 
Jefferson responded with a long letter on January 22 recommending the Italian 
Antonio Canova as the best sculptor currently working. He noted that there was 
presently no American sculptor of the first rank and that Italian marble was top 
quality. Jefferson, who a decade later would deem Macon the "Last of the 
Romans," further suggested that Washington be garbed as an ancient Roman 
rather than in his American uniform, observing, "our boots and regimentals have 
a very puny effect." 50 

After 1819, exchanges between the two men largely concentrated on political 
concerns. Addressing Macon "as the Depository of old & sound principles," 
Jefferson wrote to the senator in the summer of 1821 suggesting that Congress 
protest the federal judiciary's invasion of states' rights and proceed to impeach- 
ments should the objections go unheeded. He further urged that Congress cease 
borrowing to pay the national debt: "If this cannot be done without dismissing the 
army & putting ships out of commission, haul them up high & dry, and reduce the 
army to the lowest point at which it was ever established." Macon responded in 
kind two months later: "for two years past, the U-S have borrowed money in 
time of peace to keep their vessels cruising on every sea, & to pay an army; but 
G. Britain does the same; and if we continue to follow her example, debt, taxes & 
grinding the poor are certain consequences." The sentiments of both men were 
profoundly linked to their Revolutionary legacy of hatred of a military 
establishment, burdensome taxes, and public debt leading inevitably to financial 
speculation, corruption, and loss of civic virtue. 51 

In his retirement and much alarmed by the widening national rift exposed in 
the Missouri Compromise, Jefferson moved closer to Macon's conservatism than 
at any time since 1798. As the Sage of Monticello wrote to the senator late in 1823 

50. Macon to Jefferson, January 7, 1816, and Jefferson to Macon, January 22, 1816, Jefferson Papers. 
When the Capitol burned in 1831, the Canova Washington was damaged beyond repair. A replacement 
made from the original model in Italy was installed in the present Capitol in 1970 with Washington in 
Roman military dress. See William S. Powell, North Carolina through Four Centuries, (Chapel Hill: 
University of North Carolina Press, 1989), 213-214. 

51. Jefferson to Macon, August 19, 1821, in Ford, ed., Writings of Thomas Jefferson, 10:192-193; Macon to 
Jefferson, Octobet 20, 1821, Jefferson Papers; McDonald, Novus Ordo Seclorum, 74-77. 



Thomas Jefferson anp Nathaniel Macon: A Republican Frienhsiiii' 



23 




In 1816, Macon asked Jefferson to recommend a sculptor for a full-size statue of George Washington to he placed 
in the Capitol in Raleigh. The Italian sculptor Antonio Canova, Jefferson wrote hack, was the best currently 
working, and Italian marble was of the highest quality. Jefferson suggested that Washington be garbed as an 
ancient Roman rather than in his American uniform. Canova's original sculpture of George Washington stood in 
the rotunda of the State Capitol from 1820 to 1831 when it was severely damaged in a fire in 1831. This copy 
replaced the original in 1970. Photograph by Alan Westmoreland for the State Archives, North Carolina Office 
of Archives and History, Raleigh. 



24 



Nathaniel Macon: Three Views of His Character and Creed 




For his grave, Jefferson requested that an unadorned obelisk he inscribed with three achievements for which he 
wished to he remembered: his authorship of the Declaration of Independence and of the Vitginia Statute for 
Religious Freedom, and his fatherhood of the University of Virginia. The original obelisk marker for Jefferson's 
grave was moved from Monticello to the University of Missouri at Columbia in the 1880s, replaced by this marker. 
Photograph by Christopher Hollis for Wdwic Pictures, July 2001; reproduced by permission. 



in introducing his physician to Macon, "his political principles are yours and mine 
... he naturally wishes to be known to one so long and so prominent in the school 
of genuine republicanism."^ Three years later, in the letter already noted in 
which Jefferson introduced his grandson to Macon, he called the senator a model 
of "genuine republicanism." What did Jefferson mean by the term? 

Like other veterans of the heady times of the American Revolution, neither 
Jefferson nor Macon precisely defined republicanism. For them, it was less a formal 
structure than a spirit of government, and the ideal government was republican. 

52. Jefferson to Macon, October 10, 1823, Jefferson Papers. 



Thomas Jefferson and Nathaniel Macon: A Republican Friendship 



25 




'-at 'J 



NATHANIEL 

17 3 8 - 1 

A SOLDIER OF THE REVOLUTION; S.oi~ »„»,„.«.„ 

1782 AND 17-84: REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS, 

1791-1815. AND SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE. 1801-1807; 

UNITED STATES SENATOR. 1815-1828. AND PRESIDENT 

PRO TEM OF THE SENATE. 1826-1828. PRESIDENT OF THE 

CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION OF 1835."THE STRICTEST 

OF OUR MODELS OF GENUINE REPUBLICANISM, 

NATHANIEL MACON, UPON WHOSE TOMB WILL BE 

-'ULTIMUS ROMANORUM'.-thomas jefferson. 



X: S£J«3S$iptt2kU. 



ERECTED 1919 BY THE 

orth Carolina Historical Commission 
,Acon North Carolina Community Club 



Macon requested that his grave be unmarked, except tor stones tossed on it out of the plow's path, but in 1919, the 
North Carolina Historical Commission disregarded Macon's instructions and erected a large bronze plaque on 
granite as a headstone. Photograph trom the State Archives. 

Like Plutarch's ancient Greeks and Romans whom they so admired, the virtues of 
restraint, courage, dignity, and personal independence characterized the leaders of 
a republic. Hereditary nobility and aristocracy weakened society through their 
extravagance and pursuit of personal gain. The rustic, self-sufficient yeoman was 
the ideal. In a monarchy, a man's desire to be virtuous was often discouraged; in a 
republic, each citizen subsumed "his personal wants into the good of the whole." 5 

After leaving the White House, Jefferson came to believe increasingly that 
republicanism relied on direct and vigilant control by the citizenry. Voluntary 
consent by the governed was key, and the best government was that one closest 
to the electorate. He saw the federal courts as furthest removed from the people, 
followed by the Senate, the president, the House of Representatives, the state 
legislatures, and finally the local governments, where voters could meet face-to-face 



53. Wood, Creation of the American Republic, 48-53, 68. Helpful to understanding the persistence of these 
issues (as well as nationalist vs. states' rights struggles) is the concise treatment in Akhil Reed Amar, The 
Bill of Rights: Creation and Reconstruction (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998), 4-1 1. 



26 Nathaniel Macon: Three Views of His Character and Creed 



with those governing. Whatever acted to make government more remote from the 
people was undesirable. Although Jefferson never quite equaled the Antifederalist 
stance of Macon, he got closer to it each year from 1816 until his death. As he 
wrote to Macon in the winter of 1826, "I am particularly happy to perceive that 
you retain health and spirits manfully to maintain our good old principles of 
cherishing and fortifying the rights and authorities of the people in opposition to 
those who fear them, who wish to take all power from them, and to transfer all to 
Washington." 54 

When death took Jefferson on July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of 
American independence, his family soon discovered in his personal effects his 
designs for a gravestone. An unadorned obelisk was to be inscribed with those 
achievements for which Jefferson wished to be remembered: his authorship of the 
Declaration of Independence and of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, 
and his fatherhood of the University of Virginia. He did not mention his terms as 
president of the United States nor of any other office, elected or appointed. 55 

Nathaniel Macon died eleven years later. Befitting his more Spartan tastes, he 
insisted that his grave be unmarked, save for stones tossed on it out of the plow's 
path. In 1919, the North Carolina Historical Commission disregarded Macon's 
instructions and erected a large bronze plaque on granite as a headstone. Of its 
nine lines of text describing Macon's achievements, four are drawn from Jefferson's 
final letter to him: "The Strictest of Our Models of Genuine Republicanism, 
Nathaniel Macon, Upon Whose Tomb Will Be Written, 'Ultimus Romanorum.' " 56 
Yes, Macon's last wishes were broken, but there is a measure of solace in knowing 
that the words of an old and valued friend stand near his bones. 



54. Ellis, American Sphinx, 259-262; Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," 191-193; Price, "Nathaniel Macon, 
Antifederalist," 300-301; Jefferson to Macon, February 21, 1826, in Ford, ed., Writings of 'Thomas Jefferson, 
10:378-379. 

55. Malone, The Sage ofUonticello, 498-499. 

56. Price, "Nathaniel Macon, Planter," 213-214, describes Macon's instructions and has a picture of the 
grave. 



Nathaniel Macon, Antifederalist 



On March 25, 1839, the president of the United States wrote to a group of 
supporters who had invited him to a puhlic dinner in his honor in Warrenton, 
North Carolina. Martin Van Buren said that the press of the nation's business 
would curtail his spring travel plans but that their generous invitation was 
welcome because it came "from the immediate friends and neighbors of the late 
Nathaniel Macon; from those who have been familiar with the counsels, and 
nurtured in the principles of that great and good man, whose friendship it was my 
happiness to enjoy for many years, and until the day of his death." Fifteen years 
later in the turbulent decade of the 1850s, Van Buren would note in his auto- 
biography that there was no one whose opinion he valued more than "the 



venerable Macon." 1 



For his part, Nathaniel Macon had worked closely with Van Buren in 
Democratic politics in the 1820s and beyond and had liked the "Little Magician." 
Macon's last official act was to vote for Van Buren's presidency as an elector in 1836, 
and his last letter was one sent to the new chief executive the next year. 2 Van Buren 
recognized Macon's stature among the Old Republicans (the conservative wing of 
the party of Thomas Jefferson) as well as throughout the South, and during the late 
1820s he purposely courted Dixie. When the Little Magician traveled southward in 
1827 garnering support for the presidential campaign of Andrew Jackson, he sought 
Macon's advice. Macon had long been suspicious of Old Hickory as more ambitious 
than principled, but he trusted Van Buren's commitment to strict constructionism 
and states' rights. Ultimately, Macon would come to admire much of Jackson's 



1. Martin Van Buren to Henry Fitts and others, March 25, 1839, Martin Van Buren Papers, Library of 
Congress, Washington, D.C. (typed transcripts in Private Collections, State Archives, North Carolina 
Office of Archives and History, Raleigh), hereinafter cited as Van Buren Papers; John C. Fitzpatrick, ed.. 
Autobiography of Martin Van Buren (Washington, D.C: Government Printing Office, 1920), 221. 

2. William S. Price Jr., "Nathaniel Macon, Planter," North Carolina Historical Review 78 (April 2001): 
201-204, 207, 210; Stephen J. Barry, "Nathaniel Macon: The Prophet of Pure Republicanism, 1758- 
1837" (Ph.D. diss., State University of New York at Buffalo, 1995), 293; William S. Hoffmann, Andrew 
Jackson and North Carolina Politics (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1958), 104. 



28 Nathaniel Macon: Three Views of His Character and Creed 



presidency, and Van Buren's prominent role in the administration surely swayed 
Macon's favor. 3 

What was it that bound the slaveholding "most typical" North Carolinian of 
his era (as W. E. Dodd called Macon) to a New Yorker of Dutch ancestry who 
would in 1848 become the presidential candidate of the Free-Soilers? As different 
as both men were — culturally, geographically, socially — they shared a common 
political ideology born of Antifederalism. 4 

As its name proclaims, Antifederalism sprang from the controversy 
surrounding ratification of the federal Constitution of 1787. 5 Opponents of that 
document feared in its greater centralization of national authority many of the 
same things that had led them to revolt in 1775. For them the more expansive the 
authority of any government, the more removed it was from the governed, and the 
more certainly it would tend toward corruption and tyranny. Power was dominion 
and ultimately compulsion; its natural prey was liberty. Power was aggressive; 
liberty, passive. Thus, liberty had to be defended. The purpose of good government 
was to assure the attainment of liberty, but only the vigilance of the governed 
protected liberty because government, through its officers, would inevitably seek to 
subvert it. As the colonists had rallied against George III in 1775 because his 
"corrupt ministers" had upset the balanced English constitution of kings, lords, and 
commons, so Antifederalists in 1787 would oppose what they saw as a strengthened 
national executive, a weakened Congress, and an undermining of individual state 
sovereignty. The earlier specter of standing armies, an established church, 
unreasonable taxes, executive patronage, and a remote central authority that had 
been so feared by Revolutionaries in 1775 resurfaced among Antifederalists in 
1787. 6 



3. Donald B. Cole, Martin Van Buren and the American Political System (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton 
University Press, 1984), 110; John Niven, Martin Van Buren: The Romantic Age of American Politics 
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1983), 179-183; Norman K. Risjord, The Old Republicans: Southern 
Conservatism in the Age of Jefferson (New York: Columbia University Press, 1965), 262, 280-281; Barry, 
"Nathaniel Macon," 265-269. 

4. William E. Dodd, The Life of Nathaniel Macon (Raleigh, N.C.: Edwards and Broughton, 1903), 399; 
Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," vi, 30; Saul Cornell, The Other Founders: Anti-Federalism and the Dissenting 
Tradition in America, 1 788-1828 (Chapel Hill: Puhlished for the Omohundro Institute of Early American 
Histoty and Cultute hy the University of North Carolina Press, 1999), 298-299, 302. 

5. The historical literature on the Antifederalists is deep and wide. Many of the hest sources are ably 
treated in Gaspare J. Saladino, "The Bill of Rights: A Bibliographical Essay," in The Bill oj Rights and the 
States: The Colonial and Revolutionary Origins of American Liberties, ed. Patrick T. Conley and John P. 
Kaminski (Madison, Wis.: Madison House, 1992), 478-482. The most helpful study of Antifederalism 
puhlished since Saladino's overview is Saul Cornell's Other Founders, cited above. Especially instructive 
is Cornell's treatment of the persistence of Antifederalism well beyond ratification in 1789. 

6. Bernard Bailyn, ed., Pamphlets of the American Revolution, (750-1776, volume 1: 1750-1765 
(Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1965), 38-40, 46; Forrest McDonald, 
blovus Ordo Seclorum: The intellectual Origins of the Constitution (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 
1985), 25-26, 76-78; Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick, The Age of Federalism (New York: Oxford 



Nathaniel Macon, Antifehf.ralist 



29 




Warren County native Nathaniel Macon served in the U.S. Congress tor thirty-seven years — twenty-four in the 
House and thirteen in the Senate. A veteran of the Revolution, Macon was an ardent Antifederalist throughout 
his lite. Rohert D. Gauley portrait of Nathaniel Macon courtesy of the Architect of the Capitol, Washington, D.C. 
The painting is located in the Speakers Lobby and is part of the U.S. House of Representatives collection. 

A major dread of Antitederalists was consolidation. Proposals to share power 
between the nation and the states would inevitably lead to a federal government 
dictating to the smaller units. Political centralization fostered economic centralization, 
which in turn spurred moral decay in the unbridled pursuit of wealth. The 
Constitution ot 1787 threatened to generate an aristocracy in the executive and 
the Senate, judicial tyranny in federal courts that would override state courts, 
oppression through taxation powers, and more. Of enormous concern was the 
absence of a bill of rights guaranteeing individual freedoms. Finally, there was the 
crucial matter of the .s i ~e of government; the Antifederalist ideal was a small 
republic. There, virtuous men who understood the public interest and were known 
to their constituents would rise to positions of authority. This happy situation 
could occur only if politics were rooted in localities. A national government was 



University Tress, 1993), 6-7, 10-12; John P. Kaminski, "The Constitution without a Bill of Rights," in 
Conley and Kaminski, eds., The Bill of Rights and the States, 16-26. 



30 Nathaniel Macon: Three Views of His Character and Creed 



too disparate and diverse to be able to detect the popular will. State governments 
were closer physically and culturally to the governed.' 

One point on which Federalists and Antifederalists could agree was who should 
have a voice in government — adult males with a stake in society manifested 
through property ownership or payment of taxes. 8 While government would 
represent this constituency of propertied males and their subordinates, the nature 
of that government would be the scene of battle between Federalists and 
Antifederalists through various permutations, including the formation of political 
parties, for decades to come, right down to today. 

If Federalists viewed ratification in 1789 as their victory, Antifederalists 
applauded the approval of the Bill of Rights in 1791. After that, Antifederalists 
would lose their initial reason for being but would continue to exist in a persistent 
network of resistance that ultimately led to the creation of the Democratic- 
Republicans as a party opposing the Federalists. 9 

By the fall of 1791, a discernible opposition to certain programs of President 
George Washington's administration began to emerge as the competing political 
visions of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson vied. This was the same year 
in which Nathaniel Macon first appeared in Congress. Rival newspapers like the 
pro-Hamilton Gazette of the United States and the pro-Jefferson National Gazette 
hurled stinging editorials and stories at one another throughout 1 792. The elections 
of that fall were contested on a near-partisan basis. In ensuing years, struggles like 
those over the Jay Treaty with Britain, the Quasi War with France, and the Alien 
and Sedition Acts had generated clearly defined factions by 1 798. Nathaniel Macon 
would align himself with the Republicans (as they were then called), led by Thomas 
Jefferson and James Madison, authors of the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, 
respectively. Both texts, written at the close of 1798, argued for strict construction 
of the Constitution and individual state sovereignty. Their philosophies borrowed 
much from the rhetoric of Antifederalism a decade earlier. 10 

Nathaniel Macon was born, bred, resided, and died in a colony, later a state, 
whose spirited opposition to federalism in the ratification debates of 1787-1789 
epitomized its ongoing resistance to distant ruling authority. Of the thirteen 

7. Eugene D. Genovese, The Southern Tradition: The Achievement and Limitations of an American 
Conservatism (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1994), 85, 95, 97; Cornell, Other Founders, 
11,30-31,58,62-63,80. 

8. McDonald, Novus Ordo Seclorum, 74-75; Russell Kirk, Randolph of Roanoke; A Study in Conservative 
Thought (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951), 26. 

9. Elkins and McKitrick, Age of Federalism, 257-270. 

10. Elkins and McKitrick, Age of Federalism, 257, 282, 288, 441-442, 591-592, 719-720, 726; Genovese, 
The Southern Tradition, 57; Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," 37. Late in 1794, Macon acknowledged that 
parties were forming in Congress hut eschewed allegiance to either of them. See Kemp P. Battle, ed., 
Letters of Nathaniel Macon, John Steele, and William Barn 1 Grove (Chapel Hill: University of North 
Carolina Press, 1902), 20-21. 



Nathaniel Macon, Antifederalist 




Macon worked closely with Martin Van Buren in Democratic politics during the 1820s and campaigned for his 
presidency in 1836. Van Buren, a Jeftersonian Republican, secretary of state under Andrew Jackson, and eighth 
president of the United States, supported strict constructionism and states' rights. Portrait of Van Buren, 
ca. 1840-1S62, from the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 

original states, North Carolina was twelfth to ratify late in 1789. Even after 
ratification, the state remained wary of national authority." 

Almost from the establishment of political structure with Charles IPs grant of 
proprietary control in what would become North Carolina in 1663, the outlines of 
indigenous dissatisfaction with external rule began to emerge. Once Charleston 
was established in the 1670s, the Lords Proprietors in England were absorbed by its 
commercial promise in contrast to the plodding progress of the poorer northern 
province. Exacerbating the situation was their appointment of a series of weak, if 
not incompetent, executives for North Carolina as compared to the more capable 
appointees to the south. When royal control replaced proprietary rule after 1729, 
the situation improved somewhat, but not enough to overcome a pattern laid 
down in early years: North Carolina politics was being increasingly dominated by 
residents and (with the passage of time) natives who controlled the lower house of 
the assembly, became leaders in the Royal Council, and held sway in the county 
courts, the most pervasive and effective instruments of government in the colony. 

1 1. Alan D. Watson, "States Rights and Agrarianism Ascendant," in The Constitution and the States: The 
Role oj the Original Thirtt'en in the Framing and Adoption of the Federal Constitution, ed. Patrick T. Conley 
and John P. Kaminski (Madison, Wis.: Madison House, 1988), 251-267. 



32 Nathaniel Macon: Three Views of His Character and Creed 



Every Crown governor from George Burrington to Josiah Martin bemoaned their 
conflicts with indigenous alliances of long-resident, often intermarried locals. 12 

Resistance to institutional authority in early North Carolina was not limited to 
issues of imperial rule versus provincial control. The resident ruling elites who 
dominated the legislature and court system were in turn often opposed by the 
poorer classes. The Granville District riots of the 1750s and the Regulator agitation 
of the 1760s culminating in the Battle of Alamance in 1771 demonstrated a 
powerful cynicism about and discontent with the growing control of provincial 
elites. 13 North Carolinians, whether wealthy planters or marginal farmers, had a 
considerable suspicion -of government born of long experience. 

The coming of the American Revolution and the constitution-making that 
followed it underscored North Carolinians' distrust of outside authority. Nathaniel 
Macon, born in 1758, not only served as a soldier in the fight with Great Britain 
but also entered politics in the blast furnace of revolution. Elected to the state 
senate in 1781 while serving in Nathanael Greene's army, Macon took his seat in 
June and became closely associated with a central figure in determining what the 
polity of North Carolina would be — Willie Jones. 14 

Macon's native county of Warren (renamed in 1779 for a hero of Bunker Hill) 
was a cauldron of support for the Patriot cause. His brother Harrison was captured 
at the Battle of Camden and spent most of the remaining war as a prisoner, and his 
brother John was a captain in the Continental Line with service at Valley Forge. 
As early as 1774, the Bute County (from which Warren sprang) Committee of 
Safety was ready to raise a company "to defend ourselves against any violence," 
and by June 1775, a total of 1 14 men were elected to the committee. In February 
1778, when an oath of loyalty was administered by the county court before the 
next election, 604 qualified voters took the oath, and only five refused. l5 In 
responding to a letter from Archibald Murphey, who was attempting to write a 



12. The history of colonial North Carolina is instructively treated in the introductions in Mattie Erma 
Edwards Parker, William S. Price Jr., and Robert J. Cain, eds., The Colonial Records of North Carolina 
[Second Series], volumes 2-9 (Raleigh: Division of Archives and History, North Carolina Department of 
Cultural Resources, 1968-1988). Other helpful overviews are Hugh T. Lefler and William S. Powell, 
Colonial North Carolina: A History (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1973) and for the royal period, 
A. Roger Ekirch, "Poor Carolina": Politics and Society in Colonial North Carolina , 1729-1776 (Chapel Hill: 
University of Notth Carolina Press, 1981). 

13. The best summary of the many studies of the antecedents and aftermath of the Regulator movement is 
in H. G. Jones, North Carolina History: An Annotated Bibliography (Westport, Conn.: Gteenwood Press, 
1995), 83-85. Still useful in examining resistance by poor and marginal farmers is Marvin L. Michael Kay, 
"The North Carolina Regulation, 1766-1776: A Class Conflict" in The American Revolution: Explorations in 
the History of American Radicalism, ed. Alfred F. Young (Dekalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1976). 

14. Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," 10-12. 

15. Dodd, Nathaniel Macon, 21-28; Norman K. Risjord, Chesapeake Politics, 1781-1800 (New York: 
Columbia University Press, 1978), 88; Bute County Committee of Safety Minutes, 1775-1776 (Warrenton, 
N.C: Warren County Bicentennial Committee, 1977), 12, 19-22, 56-64. 



Nathaniel Macon. Antifeheralist 33 



history of North Carolina, Nathaniel Macon in 1825 recollected his county's 
revolutionary past. He mentioned his personal acquaintance with George Sims, a 
key figure in the Granville District upheavals, and asserted that the Regulation 
began in adjacent Halifax County. Macon helieved that the Bute County 
Committee of Safety was the first elected in the state and that there were few 
avowed Loyalists in his county. Such as there were had departed early on. 

Having fought in the Revolution, dreaded the uncertainties of postwar 
disposition of the former Granville District (of which Warren and the other 
counties in his congressional district had been part), and despised the corruption 
of English politics, Macon remained proud that his native land had broken with 
the Mother Country. As late as 1826, he denounced the "rotten boroughs" of 
Parliament, and at the 1835 state Constitutional Convention in Raleigh, Macon 
remarked, "He knew most of the men that formed the [North Carolina] 
Constitution at Halifax in 1776, and that they would have been an ornament to 
any age. . . . The patriots formed this venerated Constitution and we ought to 
approach it with awe." 1 ' 

Beginning in 1785, Macon had withdrawn from political life to focus on 
developing his plantation, Buck Spring. Late in 1783, he had married Hannah 
Hummer, who bore him two daughters and a son between 1784 and 1787. Not 
until Hannah's death early in 1790 would Macon resume his political career. 
Thus, Macon was not an active participant in the roiling arguments surrounding 
ratification. lh While absent from the Hillsborough and Fayetteville conventions 
where the Constitution was debated and finally approved, Macon would certainly 
have been aware of what was at stake. John Macon was an Antifederalist at the 
Hillsborough Convention in the summer of 1788, and Nathaniel was allied 
closely, as were John and Harrison, with Willie Jones of nearby Halifax, the 
architect of opposition to ratification in Hillsborough and a daunting political 
force. The three Macon brothers had served together in the legislature in 1782 

16. Nathaniel Macon to Archibald Murphey, October 15, 1825, Nathaniel Macon Papers, Private 
Collections, State Archives, hereinafter cited as Macon Papers. Early in 1826, the General Assembly 
authorized a lottery to raise funds for Murphey's history. The work was never completed. See Charles L. 
Coon, ed., The Beginnings of Public Education in North Carolina: A Documentary History, 1 790- 1 840, 2 
vols. (Raleigh, N.C.: Edwards and Broughton, 1908), 1:286. 

17. Dodd, Nathaniel Macon, 86-87; William K. Boyd, History of North Carolina, volume 2: The Federal 
Period, 1783-1860 (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1919), 10-11; Register of Debates, 19th Cong., 1st 
sess., 695; Proceedings and Debates of the Convention of North-Carolina Called to Amend the Constitution of 
the State, which Assembled at Raleigh, June 4, (835 (Raleigh, N.C.: Joseph Gales and Son, 1836), 176-178. 
Macon opposed congressional appropriations to implement the Jay Treaty early in 1796, largely for fear 
that it would open the way to lawsuits by the Granville heirs. The Granville District was created by the 
Crown in 1744 in the northern part of North Carolina as compensation to Eatl Granville, who had not 
sold his proprietary share to the Ctown in 1 729 as the other seven proprietots had. See William S. Powell, 
North Carolina through Four Centuries (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989), 86, 93-95. 

18. Price, "Nathaniel Macon, Planter," 198; Macon-Eaton Family Bible, Southern Historical Collection, 
Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 



34 



Nathaniel Macon: Three Views of His Character and Creed 




Willie Jones, a Halifax planter and political ally of Macon's, led the opposition to ratification of the Constitution 
in 1788, when North Carolina delegates gathered to debate the issue in Hillsborough. Portrait of Jones from the 
State Archives, North Carolina Office of Archives and History, Raleigh. 

under Jones's tutelage. He had been the chief author of the Constitution of 1776 
and its Declaration of Rights. Friend of Thomas Jefferson and opponent of federal 
consolidation, Jones was Nathaniel Macon's earliest political mentor. 19 

Nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century views of the Eton-educated, wealthy 
Jones as "the undisputed leader of the radical party" in North Carolina have 
always seemed incongruous, and late-twentieth-century historians have rightly 
challenged them. It is indisputable, however, that Willie Jones was a fervent 
states' rights advocate. The prospect of a muscular central government — whether 
in London or, ultimately, Washington — was anathema to him. He declined to 
attend the Fayetteville Convention in 1 789 because of the certainty of ratification 
and basically withdrew from active politics thereafter. 20 

Because North Carolina was a state where the economy was based on small- 
scale agriculture, the emphasis on individual rights in Antifederalism would 



19. Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," 30; Dodd, Nathaniel Macon, 38; Blackwell P. Robinson, William R. Davie 
(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1957), 195-196; Blackwell P. Robinson, "Willie Jones 
of Halifax," North Carolina Historical Review 18 (January and April 1941): 24, 148. John and Nathaniel 
Macon were among Jones's closest allies. See Dodd, Nathaniel Macon, 51. 

20. Don Higginbotham, "The Politics of Revolutionary North Carolina: A Preliminary Assessment," in 
War and Society in Revolutionary America: The Wider Dimensions of Conflict, ed. Don Higginbotham 
(Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1988), 67-70; Robinson, "Willie Jones," 161. 



Nathaniel Macon, Antifederalist 35 



remain formidable. Without major urban and commercial centers and with 
numerous religious dissenters in their dispersed population, North Carolinians 
sought written guarantees of rights and procedures. They were suspicious of 
assertions not grounded in clear texts. When the state adopted its constitution 
late in 1776, it first approved a Declaration of Rights before ratification and 
specifically incorporated those guarantees into the constitutional document. 
Macon's most recent biographer contends that his strict constructionism sprang 
from his respect for the written word, whether in a constitution or in Scripture. 21 
Nathaniel Macon, younger brother of a proclaimed Antifederalist, protege of 
Willie Jones, native and resident of a region and state deeply wary of external rule, 
thus seemed primed for a political career that would resist the consolidation of 
governmental power. He would not disappoint. 

Entering the U.S. House of Representatives in the Second Congress in 
October 1791, Macon initially stayed in the background, befitting his status as a 
novice. He tended to follow the lead of James Madison in voting except when the 
Virginian would support strong federal authority. By the Third Congress in 1793, 
however, Macon, along with Federalist William Barry Grove, was senior in the 
North Carolina delegation, and he became more assertive. Macon would gain 
notice as a leader in opposing appropriations to carry out the Jay Treaty in 1 796. 23 

Throughout a congressional career that spanned thirty-seven years — twenty- 
tour in the House and thirteen in the Senate — as well as in his correspondence 



2 1 . William S. Price Jr., " 'There Ought to Be a Bill of Rights': Notth Carolina Enters a New Nation," in 
Conley and Kaminski, eds., The Bill of Rights and the States, 430-431 (published as a pamphlet by the 
Otfice of Archives and History, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, in 1991); Michael 
Lienesch, "North Carolina: Preserving Rights," in Ratifying the Constitution, ed. Michael Allen Gillespie 
and Michael Lienesch (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1989), 362-363; Barry, "Nathaniel 
Macon," 28. Late in Macon's Senate tenure, he wrote in an undated note: "North Carolina cannot have a 
large city. The adoption of the federal constitution made New York, 6k destroyed the foreign trade of the 
southern states." See "Nathaniel Macon in Congress" folder, Katherine Clark Pendleton Conway 
Collection, Private Collections, State Archives, hereinafter cited as Conway Collection. The many 
undated notes in this folder appear to have been used by Macon in speeches he made on the floor of 
Congress. Based on the poor quality of his handwtiting, all of them seem to date from his Senate service 
rathet than from his long tenute in the House. Surely some of them were used in one of his last important 
speeches opposing the Tariff of 1828, the so-called Tariff of Abominations. See Elizabeth Gregory 
McPherson, ed., "Letters from Nathaniel Macon to John Randolph of Roanoke," North Carolina 
Historical Review 39 (April 1962): 204. 

22. Although Macon attended the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University), perhaps for as long 
as two years, the school seems to have made little lasting impact on him. When asked in his later years for 
advice on advanced schooling, Macon would recommend the College of William and Mary to some and 
the University of North Carolina to others, but Princeton was conspicuously absent. See Price, 
"Nathaniel Macon, Planter," 190; Wesley Frank Craven, "Nathaniel Macon," in Princetonians; A 
Biographical Dictionary, volume 3: 1776-1783, ed. Richard A. Harrison (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton 
University Press, 1981), 230-236. 

23. Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," 37-41; Dodd, Natfianii;! Macon, 56, 86-87. By late 1795, opposition to the 
Jay Tteaty became a patty commitment among Republicans. See Elkins and McKittick, Age of Federalism, 
441-442. 



36 



Nathaniel Macon: Three Views of His Character and Creed 



Tl.fi CENT1NEL. Vol IX 

.$. REDEUNT SAT URN I A REGNA. , ^ 

t On the erettion of the Eleventh PILLAR of the great ]Sa- % 

no i.l DOME, ue big leave meji ftnccrelj la ftli::talc " OUR dear coustry." 

111 



Rife i 




>£?" Tie/mJatka 

gcij — ;« acytft 
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The FEDERAL ED1HCE. 

ELEVEN STARS, in quick luccefljon rife— 
ELEVEN COLUMNS finite our wond'ring eyes. 
Soon o'er the labele, (hall fwell the beauteous DOME, 
COLUMBIA'S boafl— and FREEDOMS hallow'd home. 

Here fball the ARTS in glorious fplendour fhine ! 
And AGRICUL'I URE give her tlores divine ! 
COMMERCE rcfin'd, difpenfc us more than gold, 
And this new world, teach WISDOM to the old— 
RELIGION here ball fii her bled abode, 
Array'd in mildntjiy like its parent GOD ! 
JUb'l ICE and LAW, Ihall cndlcfs PEACE maintain, 
Andr*« " SATURNlAN AGE," telurn aga\„. 



Antifederalists feared that ratifying the federal Constitution of 1787 would concentrate excessive power in the 
hands of a centrali:ed national authority. The balance of political power, they believed, should lie with individual 
sovereign states. Of North Carolina, this editorial cartoon notes, "Rise it will." North Carolina was the twelfth 
state to ratify the Constitution, in November 1789. From the Massac/riuerts Centinel, August 2, 1788, Serial and 
Government Publications Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 

and public actions after retiring from Washington in 1828, Nathaniel Macon 
generally evinced his Antifederalist roots in these ways: suspicion of overarching 
power (especially in the executive branch) and its tendency toward corruption; 
protection of individual freedoms; support for broad, uncomplicated suffrage for 
white males exercised in frequent elections; wariness of taxes and patronage; and, 
above all, insistence on a literal reading of the federal Constitution so as to shield 
the sovereignty of individual states. A closer examination of Macon's words and 
actions in each of these five categories is instructive. 

Macon's suspicion of power is most clearly expressed in a statement he 
delivered on the Senate floor in 1816: "ours is a Government of suspicion; every 
election proves it; the power to impeach proves it; the history of Caesar, of 
Cromwell, and Bonaparte, proves that it ought to be so to remain free."* 4 All three 
branches of government must maintain a clear separation of powers, lest a single 



24. Annals of Congress, 14th Cong, 1st sess., 79. Later in the Senate, Macon commented, "All govern- 
ments, no matter what their form, want more power and authority." See Annals of Congress, 16th Cong., 
1st sess., 223. 



Nathaniel Macon, Antifederalist 37 



branch become too powerful, he believed. No member of one branch should be able 
to assume office in another — for example, an incumbent congressman should not be 
appointed to a cabinet post — and he particularly deplored presidential nominations 
to the judiciary because they turned into virtual lifetime appointments. If any one 
of the three branches must have more power than the other two, he avowed, it 
should be the legislative, elected biennially in the House and chosen by state 
legislatures in the Senate. " 

One of the most dreaded potential abuses of power was that of the military. 
From the start of his congressional career, Macon almost always voted against 
augmenting the si:e of the army or navy. He favored militias over standing armies 
and privateering over a permanent navy. 26 In time of war, a regular army made 
sense and was less expensive than mobilizing militias, but the United States was 
not seeking conquest and given its vastness, was best suited to a defensive posture. 
If invaded, militias and privateers could function ably to repel an enemy as they 
had done during the Revolution. A regular army and navy afforded too many 
opportunities for unwarranted expenditures and dangerous ambitions. If the 
nation wanted to impress potential foes, whether in Algeria, France, England, or 
elsewhere, then it should formally declare war rather than expand the peacetime 
military in the hope of generating a threat. 27 In the declared War of 1812, Macon 
supported expanding the army to fight Great Britain, increasing enlistment terms 
to five years rather than one, and raising taxes to pay the added expenses. However, 
he still favored privateering over shipbuilding and opposed conscription as a 
violation of habeas corpus. Breaking with his close friend John Randolph of 
Roanoke, who adamantly opposed the war, Macon argued that failure to fight the 
monarchical British would signal that republican government was unworkable. 

25. Edwin Mood Wilson, The Congressional Career of Nathaniel Macon Followed by Letters of Mr. Macon 
and Willie P. Mangum with Notes by Kemp P. Battle (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 
1900), 65-66; Proceedings and Debates of the Convention, 1835, 335-336. During the debates over popular 
election of the governor in the 1835 state Constitutional Convention, Macon favored maintaining the 
existing system of legislative selection of the executive. Because the governor lacked a veto — which 
pleased Macon — his direct election mattered little. It was better for him to remain subservient to the 
legislature than to make his own appeals to the electorate. See Proceedings and Debates of the Convention, 
1835,335-336,399-400. 

26. Annals of Congress, 2d Cong., 1st sess., 355; 2d Cong., 2d sess., 802; 3d Cong., 1st sess., 494-497; 
Elkins and McKimck, Age of Federalism, 595, 717- In May 1794, Macon supported James Madison's 
position that the Constitution wisely lets the executive direct the military but allows the legislature to 
authorire and fund it. See Annals of Congress, 3d Cong., 1st sess., 709. 

27. Annals of Congress, 5th Cong., 2d sess., 1671-1674, 1698-1699, 1756-1757; 10th Cong., 1st sess., 
1028-1029; Edwatd R. Cotten, Life of the Hon. Nathaniel Macon of North Carolina (Baltimore, Md.: Lucas 
and Deaver, 1840), 101; Nathaniel Macon to Albert Gallatin, August 2, 1807, Albert Gallatin Papers, 
New-York Historical Society, New York City (photocopies in State Archives, Raleigh), hereinafter cited 
as Gallatin Papers; Battle, ed., Letters of Nathaniel Macon, John Steele, and William Barry Grove, 82-83; 
Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," 48, 50, 124-127. Macon wrote early in 1806, "It is not, my friend, easy to raise 
an army but it is easiet to do this than to get clear of one when raised." See Nathaniel Macon to Joseph 
Nicholson, January 31, 1806, quoted in Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," 127. 



38 Nathaniel Macon: Three Views of His Character and Creed 




Prior to the critical election of 1800, Macon urged Joseph Gales, a congressional journalist, to start a pro- 
Republican newspaper in North Carolina. In the fall of 1 799, Gales issued the first number ot the Raleigh Register, 
which regularly attacked Federalist programs and policies. Portrait of Gales by Charles Bird King from the 
Redwood Library and Athenaeum, Newport, Rhode Island, reproduced by permission. 

Still, the Congress must be especially vigilant for any signs of executive expansion 
or corruption in such stressful times. 28 

Macon also believed in protecting individual freedoms: Although he was not 
in Congress during the argument for the Bill of Rights, he was subsequently an 
advocate for it. He was a prominent figure in the debates over the Alien and 
Sedition Acts in John Adams's presidency and thereby earned the respect of James 
Madison and other Republicans. During the debates in 1798, Macon argued that 
the Constitution forbade legislation that would prohibit free speech. The people 
would assume that any government not allowing unfettered discussion was 
inherently corrupt. The Sedition Act threatened the press, and the Alien Act 
challenged the prerogatives of citizens while unduly enhancing executive power. 29 

On the floor of the House in July, Macon argued that if Congress could abridge 
a free press, then it could establish a religion, as both are from the same part of the 
Constitution. Members ought to review the ratification debates in the various 
states, which make clear that no prosecutions for libel by the national government 
were to occur. Macon believed "the liberty of the press was sacred, and ought to be 
left where the Constitution had left it. The states have complete power on the 

28. Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," 150-156; William K. Boyd, "Nathaniel Macon in National Legislation," 
Trinity College Historical Society Papers (Series 4, 1900), 84. 

29. Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," 52-55, 57; Elkins and McKitrick, Age of Federalism, 591-592; Cornell, 
Other Founders, 231. 



Nathaniel Maoon. Antifederalist 39 



subject. ..." He went on to argue tor judicial review should the law pass: "He could 
only hope that the Judges would exercise the power placed in them of determining 
the law an unconstitutional law, if, upon scrutiny they find it to be so."' Given 
his strong convictions in these matters, as well as the growing split between 
Federalists and Democratic-Republicans, Macon urged Joseph Gales to leave his 
work as a congressional journalist and start a pro-Republican newspaper in North 
Carolina. In the fall of 1799, Gales issued the first number of the Raleigh Register 
and kept up a steady attack on Federalist programs and policies. His republican 
loyalties were proven. Gales had been forced to leave his native England in 1795 
because of his pro-French views. As he got older, Macon became more critical 
of the "slanders" and meanspiritedness of the national press, but he rejected 
censorship. Indeed, at the July 4, 1825, festivities in Warrenton, Macon offered 
this public toast: "A free press — the Shield of Freedom — the scourge of Tyrants." 32 

Where freedom of religion was concerned, Macon was a strong advocate of 
separation of church and state and personally tolerant. Although he eschewed 
church membership, he read the Bible and sometimes attended services at the 
Baptist meeting near Buck Spring. Macon supported removal of religious tests for 
ofticeholding and considered mixing politics and religion "the essence of 
hypocrisy." No one who reads his correspondence can doubt the reality of his 
personal religious convictions, but to the end of his life he believed it was wrong 
tor any governmental institution — whether the Congress or a county court — to 
interfere in matters of conscience. 35 

As to the other kinds of individual freedoms, such as the right of assembly or 
petition, Macon viewed the best possible government as one that interfered little, 
if at all, with the conduct of ordinary lives. If government did intrude, it ought to 
be closely monitored. Like his friend Thomas Jefferson, Macon trusted the 
common sense of the yeomanry over the will of the state. Laws needed to be clear 
and concise so that citizens could understand their limits as well as their authority. 
Macon argued, "Every extension of power by construction makes the operation of 
government more unequal, the [1787] convention aware of this gave but few 

10. Annals of Congress, 5th Cong., 2d sess., 2105-2106, 2151-2152. Macon continued to speak in support 
ot freedom of the press in the Congress of 1800, even arguing that because it is impossible to draw a line 
between "freedom of" and "abuse by" the press, it is better for an informed citizenry to make its own 
judgments than for Congress to interfere. See Annals of Congress, 6th Cong., 1st sess., 405-406. 

31. Boyd, Histon' of North Carolina: The Federal Period, 52; Robinson, William R. Davie, 361. 
Antitederalists viewed an informed citizenry as the key to maintaining liberty. Creating a network of 
newspapers was crucial to the spread of information. See Cornell, Other Founders, 247-248. 

32. Nathaniel Macon to Weldon Edwards, April 5, 1828, Macon Papers; Warrenton Reporter, July 8, 1825. 

33. Price, "Nathaniel Macon, Planter," 205-207. At the 1835 Constitutional Convention, Macon 
expressed his teligious views more completely than anywhere else. He seemed genuinely moved by the 
pleas of his fellow delegate William Gaston, a Roman Catholic, for removal of the Protestant test oath in 
the 1776 Constitution. 



40 Nathaniel Macon: Three Views of His Character and Creed 



powers, that convention knew [the] difficulty of managing an unlimited federative 
Government — a majority may he tyrants." 34 

Macon also advocated wide suffrage for white adult males and frequent elections. 
He expressed his views, intriguingly, if incompletely, to Jefferson in 1822: "The 
great principle of American government is election for short periods. . . ." The 
House of Representatives should be elected hy free white males twenty-one or 
older ("except paupers, lunatics, & those who have committed crime"), and they 
should be eligible to serve in the House at that age (the Constitution required them 
to be at least twenty-five). The Senate would be chosen by those thirty years of age 
or older, although Macon believed that a minimum age of forty might be even 
better, the object being to have "one branch at an age beyond youthful heat. . . ." 
Appointments for judges should be abandoned in favor of elections for fixed 
terms. 33 In earlier times, Macon advocated annual elections for the House, triennial 
elections for the Senate, and a single eight-year term for the president. At one 
point he even suggested direct election of the chief executive. He consistently 
opposed property qualifications for voters. There should be age, residency, and tax 
requirements, but none beyond those. "One house ought to be sufficiently 
numerous to represent the people fairly, and originate every bill." The other house 
"should not be numerous but old" and only revise or amend bills. 56 

During debates over moving from annual to biennial legislative elections in 
the 1835 Constitutional Convention in Raleigh, Macon quoted Jefferson's warning: 
"Where annual elections end, tyranny begins." A democracy was a government of 
the people, he added, and should operate on the principles of the American 
Revolution, among them annual elections. "If you can put off meeting the 
Legislature for two years, you may extend the time to four, six or ten years. 
Mr. Jefferson said, he preferred the tempest of Liberty to the calm of Despotism." 
The principal reason Macon voted against the new constitution in 1835 was its 
abandonment of annual elections. 37 



34. John Lauritz Larson, "Jefferson's Union and the Problem of Internal Improvements," in Jeffersonian 
Legacies, ed. Peter S. Onuf (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993), 345-346; Nathaniel 
Macon, undated autograph notes, Macon Papers; Price, "Nathaniel Macon, Planter," 212-213; Elkins 
and McKitrick, Age of Federalism, 760 n. 31. 

35. Elizabeth Gregory McPherson, ed., "Unpublished Letters from North Carolinians to Jefferson," North 
Carolina Historical Review 12 (July and October 1935): 376-377- Macon seems to have written this letter 
in some haste out of his concerns over the decisions of John Marshall's Supreme Court and following the 
Missouri Compromise debates. He does not, for insrance, specify the frequency of elections nor lengths of 
terms of office. What is clear, however, is his profound conviction that a broad electorate should be 
voting often for federal officials. 

36. Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," 196-197; Wilson, Congressional Career of Macon Follou'ed by Letters, 
65-66. 

37. Proceedings and Debates of the Convention, 1835, 91-92, 176-178, 399-400. 



Nathaniel Macon, Antifeheralist 



41 




42 Nathaniel Macon: Three Views of His Character and Creed 



Finally, in keeping with his principles, Macon refused to participate in the 
Republican caucuses that nominated presidential candidates after his distasteful 
experience in the "Marache Club" that nominated Jefferson in 1804- Despite the 
urgings of various close friends and political allies from Albert Gallatin to Martin 
Van Buren, Macon believed that the caucus system was too far removed from the 
people and too subject to deal-making. Unlike his fellow Old Republicans John 
Taylor of Caroline or John Randolph of Roanoke, Macon eschewed elitism — for 
example, he never called himself "Nathaniel Macon of Buck Spring" — and 
embraced the democracy of his day. 38 

Macon was particularly wary of taxes and patronage. The potential abuses of 
the taxing power and mischievous, even tyrannical, uses of political patronage he 
found especially odious. They smacked of the liberty-destroying ways of European 
despotisms. Macon's North Carolina was as averse to taxation as any state and 
more so than some. That attitude was expressed by an anonymous writer in the 
Raleigh Register on the eve of a legislative session in 1829. In an open letter to the 
incoming assemblymen, "X" asked why the state needed more roads and canals — 
could citizens not move from one place to another fairly easily? Support for the 
university at Chapel Hill was expensive, and "our good old field schools" had met 
the state's needs well in the past. College-educated people were pretentious, he 
argued, "and the fewer of them we have amongst us the better. They are antithetical 
to simple, honest republicanism. " w While "X" was even more conservative than 
Macon, his opinions were identical to many of those who venerated Macon and 
returned him to office term after term. 

Taxes weighed heaviest on agrarian, small-scale farmers, in Macon's view. 
With Jefferson, he saw such people as the bedrock of the country. Massive public 
works projects seldom reached them or their economic peers in their hardscrabble 
existences. As Macon noted in 1826, "many poor people pay taxes who would not 
be benefitted [from internal improvements], what advantage would the hunter, 
the fisherman or the tar burner receive & many others who live on poor land?" He 
concluded, "The operations of all governments are in favor of the rich . . . every 
paper system of every kind are for the interest of the rich & cunning, & not for the 



38. Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," 249-252; Robert Dawidoff, The Education of John Randolph (New York: 
W. W. Norton and Co., 1979), 294; Nathaniel Macon, undated autograph notes, Conway Collection. 
Macon defined his anti-caucus stance in 1824 in rejecting attendance there in order to support his friend 
and announced choice, William H. Crawford of Georgia: "No party . . . can last unless found[ed] on pure 
principles, & the minute a patty begins to intrigue within itself is the minute when the seed of dissension 
is sown & its purity begins to decline." See Nathaniel Macon to Albert Gallatin, February 13, 1824, 
Gallatin Papers. 

39. Coon, ed., The Beginnings of Public Education in North Carolina, 1 :43 1 -432. Even if "X" should turn out 
to be a satirist rather than an authentic correspondent (and it is now impossible to know), the views 
expressed are faithful to those of many North Carolina conservatives of the day. 



Nathaniel Macon, Antifederalist 4^ 



poor & honest.'"' Growth of public debt assured that taxes must grow too, and the 
poor and middling citizen would have to work even harder to pay them. 41 Hand in 
glove with the accumulation of debt and demand for paper currency was the 
dreaded insistence on a national bank. Macon opposed all measures to charter the 
Bank of the United States during his congressional career. Of his many negative 
statements about banks, perhaps the most pointed is this one from 1834: "all banks 
are alike, because they are nobles of the land &. all nobles are alike, have exclusive 
privileges, which they abuse." Banks sustained an aristocracy of wealth, and the 
bigger the bank, the more disdainful it was of a democratic people. 42 

Macon abhorred political patronage, especially where a salary or commissions 
were involved; to him, the whole system resembled despised aspects of British rule. 
Macon, as a powerful ally of Thomas Jefferson, served as Speaker of the House for 
the first six of the Virginian's eight years as president and oversaw which North 
Carolinians would secure federal appointments. Early on he outlined his method: 
"I shall carefully endeavor to select such as can discharge the duty of office, and 
have been uniformly democratic, although I do not wish any person turned out of 
office, who was a whig in the Revolutionary war, for any opinion he may now hold, 
yet I would not recommend any one for office who had not always been a 
Republican." 43 Given the rancor of the election of 1800 and the resentment of 
many about the late appointments of the outgoing Federalist president, John 
Adams, Macon's statement is hardly that of a rabid party man. In later years he 
would be even less concerned over partisan loyalty in patronage matters. Fairly 
typical is this letter to a North Carolinian seeking a federal appointment in 1818: 
"It is not only proper, but due to you, to state frankly, that it has never been my 
practice to concern [myself] with appointments, not for the state in which I live, 
when this shall be known to you, I am sure that you will not desire a change in the 
practice." Patronage left a bitter taste in Macon's mouth, and despite a persistent 
regard tor Thomas Jefferson, even after he left the White House, Macon 
increasingly disapproved of the Virginian's use of patronage, especially to woo and 

40. Price, "Nathaniel Macon, Planter," 212-213; Nathaniel Macon to Boiling Hall, March 18, 1826, 
Boiling Hall Papers, State Archives, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery 
(photocopies in State Archives, Raleigh), hereinafter cited as Hall Papers. His fullest biographer argues 
that Macon was more egalitarian than most of his political associates and far more trusting of the working 
classes. See Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," 193-195. 

41- Nathaniel Macon to Weldon Edwards, February 17, 1828, Macon Papers; Nathaniel Macon to 
William H. Crawtord, October 13, 1817, William H. Crawford Papers, Rare Book, Manuscript, and 
Special Collections Library, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina. 

42. Nathaniel Macon to Weldon Edwards, May 20, 1834, Weldon N. Edwards Papers, Southern 
Historical Collection; Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," 185-186; Elizabeth Gregory McPherson, ed., 
"Unpublished Letters from North Carolinians to Van Buren," North Carolina Historical Review 15 
(January 1938): 61-62. 

43. Wilson, Congressional Career of Macon Followed by Letters, 79-81; McPherson, ed., "Letters to Thomas 
Jefferson," 271-272; Annals of Congress, 7th Cong., 1st sess., 713. 



44 Nathaniel Macon: Three Views of His Character and Creed 



reward members of Congress during his second term. Such actions, he believed, 
undermined the separation of powers essential to good government. 44 

The increasing abuse of patronage was tied to the growth of political parties 
and their need to reward supporters. The leadership of the Revolutionary 
generation regarded "party" as an epithet, reeking with the odor of British 
ministerial corruption. However, by the 1790s, in the tense atmosphere generated 
in the West by the French Revolution and the British reaction to it, American 
parties in their modern sense began to evolve. By 1797, Thomas Jefferson was 
leading, often offstage, the growing opposition to Federalists, whether John 
Adams or Alexander Hamilton or their allies. Still, the generation that had lived 
through the American Revolution was uncomfortable with the idea of party while 
simultaneously aligning with one. 45 

As Jefferson's key supporter in North Carolina, Macon welcomed the growing 
opposition to Federalist policies, such as hostility to France, loose interpretation 
of the Constitution, and favor to commercial interests. He delighted in Jefferson's 
victory in the election of 1800 and was especially buoyed by Republican unity 
throughout the ordeal of the multiple ballots required to install Jefferson over his 
vice-president, Aaron Burr. "The election from beginning to end was carried on 
with great moderation and good humor," Macon wrote. 46 By Jefferson's second 
term, the political differences between the president as head of the party and 
Macon as a leader of the Old Republicans — who claimed steadfast allegiance to 
the Antifederalist principles articulated in the Kentucky and Virginia resolutions 
of 1798 — had deepened. However, Macon never disparaged Jefferson, even after 
the president failed to support his nomination for a fourth term as Speaker in 
1807. Macon, along with John Randolph of Roanoke, considered Jefferson's first 
term as the high-water mark of Republican practice. 47 Later, in the presidencies of 
James Madison and James Monroe, Macon saw an erosion of Republican ideals, 
as these chief executives compromised on measures favoring banks, internal 
improvements, and tariffs. Macon was never warm to either of them. 48 

44. Nathaniel Macon to "Sir," February 10, 1818, Macon Papers; Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," 100-101. 

45. Joseph J. Ellis, Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000), 
186-187; Elkins and McKitrick, Age of Federalism, 484-485, 554-555. John Randolph of Roanoke defined 
the Old Republican principles well in 1813: "Love of peace, hatred of offensive war, jealousy of State 
Governments towards the General Government; a dread of standing armies, a loathing of public debt, 
taxes, and excises; tenderness for the liberty of the citizen; jealousy, Argus-eyed jealousy, of the patronage 
of the President." Quoted in Kirk, Randolph oj Roanoke, 89. 

46. Nathaniel Macon to "Sir," February 20, 1801, Nathaniel Macon Collection, Library of Congress 
(photocopies in State Archives, Raleigh). 

47. Risjord, Old Republicans, 65-66; Dawidoff, Education oj John Randolph, 172; Thomas Hart Benton, 
Thirty Years' View . . . from 1820-1850 (1875; reprint, New York: George Braziller, 1963), 32. 

48. Wilson, Congressional Career of Macon Followed hy Letters, 93-95; McPherson, ed., "Letters to Thomas 
Jefferson," 378-379; Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," 132. 



Natiianikl Macxin, Antifeim;kalist 



45 




Macon was closely allied with Thomas Jefferson and was his key supporter in North Carolina. Like Jefferson, he 
welcomed the growing opposition to Federalist policies, such as hostility to France, loose interpretation of the 
Constitution, and favor to commercial interests. Portrait of Thomas Jefferson (1805) by Rembrandt Peale, from 
the New- York Historical Society. 

Although Macon supported Andrew Jackson for the presidency in 1828, he 
waited until late 1827 to endorse him. Macon had known Old Hickory since 1797 
and had sizable misgivings about him. He thought that Jackson was headstrong — 
his unauthorized invasion of Florida in 1 8 1 8 was particularly worrisome — and while 
he was a congressman, Jackson had regularly supported internal improvements. 
Macon endorsed William H. Crawford in the 1824 presidential contest and came 
to Old Hickory four years later only because he seemed the lesser of two evils, 
given the re-election hopes of John Quincy Adams. In time, with Jackson's vetoes 
of the Bank of the United States and the Maysville Road legislation, Macon 
warmed toward him considerably. Not a little of this enthusiasm sprang from 
Jackson's increasing reliance on and promotion of Martin Van Buren from 
secretary of state to vice-president to designated successor. 49 



49. Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," 265-269; Harry L. Watson, Liberty and Power: The Politics of ]acksonian 
America (New York: Noonday Press, 1990), 1 34-164; Martin Van Buren to supporters in North Carolina, 
October 4, 1832, Van Buren Papers; Wilson, Congressional Career 0/ Macon FoKou'ed by Letters, 84-86, 
99-100. The Maysville Road bill authorized the federal government to fund the development of a road 



46 Nathaniel Macon: Three Views of His Character and Creed 



Macon also firmly supported strict construction and states' rights. Early in 
1799, Jefferson offered this statement, which Macon welcomed: "I am for 
preserving to the States the powers not yielded by them to the Union, and to the 
legislature of the Union its constitutional share of the division of powers; I am not 
for transferring all the powers of the States to the general government, and all 
those of that government to the Executive branch." The federal government 
possessed only those powers specifically delineated in the Constitution — beyond 
that literal reading lurked the fearful potential for abuse of power, especially by an 
ambitious executive. 50 

From early in his congressional career, Macon made his own strict constructionist 
views clear. The states would never have approved the Constitution — and 
underscored their views in the Tenth Amendment — if it meant surrendering 
sovereignty within their borders. Furthermore, the nation owed its creation to the 
states. Macon even noted that state legislatures could render the federal 
government impotent by refusing to elect senators to Congress, thereby paralyzing 
the political process. 51 

As early as George Washington's presidency, Macon disagreed with those 
who sought to broaden federal powers through a liberal interpretation of the 
Constitution. As time progressed, that loose reading of parts of the fundamental 
law would only expand. By 1818, Macon was warning a fellow Republican who 
was drawn to Henry Clay's program of internal improvements: "If Congress can 
make canals, they can with more propriety emancipate. Be not deceived, I speak 
soberly in the fear of God, and the love of the Constitution, Let not love of 
improvement, or a thirst for glory blind that sober discretion and sound sense with 
which the Lord has blest you . . . add not to the Constitution nor take therefrom." 
Seven years later, in repeating these arguments to the same correspondent, Macon 
would add that during the ratification debates, "the authors of the book, now 
called the federalist" made no claim of federal power to authorize banks, roads, or 
canals. 52 



from Maysville to Lexington, Kentucky. Jackson objected on the grounds that the project would only 
benefit Kentucky and was not in the national interest. 

50. Thomas Jefferson to Elbridge Gerry, January 26, 1799, quoted in Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," 65; 
Risjord, Old Republicans, 1. Given his strict constructionism, Jefferson was concerned about the 
constitutionality of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and considered seeking an amendment to permit 
"enlargement of the Union." However, Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin atgued that the United 
States had an inherent right as a sovereign nation to acquire territory, and Macon seems to have shared 
his view. See Dumas Malone, ]efferson the President: First Term, 1801-1805 (Boston: Little, Brown and 
Co., 1970), 311-332. 

51. Annals of Congress, 5th Cong., 2d sess., 2151-2152; Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," 55-56. 

52. Wilson, Congressional Career of Macon Followed rn> Letters, 46-50, 76-78. For Macon's views of slavery, 
see Price, "Nathaniel Macon, Planter," 201-204. 



Nathaniel Mai:on. Antifkheralist 47 



The Founding Fathers had wisely provided an amending procedure for the 
Constitution, and that was the route Macon commended if change were necessary. 
Late in 1810, he himself proposed an amendment that would prohibit congressmen 
from accepting executive branch appointments during a presidential term in 
which they had sat in the legislature. It tailed, but Macon's dogged insistence on a 
clear separation of powers as well as his distaste for patronage manipulation was 
underscored. On the Senate floor in 1826, he rejected the notion that the 
Constitution was "too sacred" to be amended, as one member had suggested. To be 
sure, amendments should neither be frivolous nor frequent, he believed, but the 
Congress was obliged to remedy serious wrongs. Above all, one should rely on the 
wisdom of the voters: "This Government is founded on the principle that the 
People have sense enough to govern themselves; and if passion should sometimes 
show itselt, it will burn out, and reason will resume her throne, and the thing will 
come right." 1 ' This statement, coming two months before the death of Jefferson, 
would have pleased him. 

The aftermath of the War of 1812 saw a national growth in commercial 
development that fueled a push for internal improvements, banks, a bigger navy, 
and other federal expenditures. The competition among politicians to claim a 
share of these appropriations for their constituencies increased the lure of loose 
construction, of an easier way to spend federal money widely. In 1828, Macon 
lamented, "The Constitution is out of fashion, you know it was buried, but the 
tuneral discourse never published, so that its death, was not generally heard of, 
before fashion laid it by." Near the end of his congressional career, he made the 
same point in a debate on funding the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal — that the 
Constitution did not specifically authorize internal improvements was simply no 
longer a concern of most members; they brushed that question aside without a 
second thought. 54 After Macon retired from the national stage, his stance on 
internal improvements only hardened. At the 1835 Constitutional Convention, 
he opposed any governmental role in them whatsoever. Such improvements were 
best undertaken by the private sector, where cheaper rates could be leveraged." 

Macon not only believed the Constitution should be literally interpreted in 
the matter of public works, but he also deeply dreaded the ways in which such 
projects could breed corruption. As he said in 1821 in opposing the Ohio-Erie 

53. Register of Debates, 19th Cong., lstsess., 695-696; Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," 145-146, 188. 
54- Nathaniel Macon to Weldon Edwards, February 22, 1828, Macon Papers. 

55. Proceedings and Debates of the Convention, 1835, 91-92. That Southern concerns over nationally 
funded internal improvements continued beyond the 1835 Constitutional Convention is witnessed by 
their prohibition in article 1, section 8 (3) of the Constitution of the Confederacy. The Confederate 
drafters were much influenced by Antitederalist writings. See Marshall L. DeRosa, The Confederate 
Constitution oj 1861 : An Inquiry into American Constitutionalism (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 
1991), 57-65, 120-134. 



48 Nathaniel Macon: Three Views of His Character and Creed 



Canal, government funding "would encourage a spirit of speculation among the 
people, which it is the duty of Government to discountenance." When money 
became the standard for judging personal worth, social morality suffered. 56 

It is instructive to examine Macon's stance on two questions of huge national 
significance, one occurring while he was in Congress, the other after his retirement — 
the Missouri Compromise in 1820 and the Nullification Crisis a dozen years later. 
In each case, his positions on strict construction and states' rights are forthrightly 
expounded. 

The question of admitting Missouri as a state late in 1819 touched off a series of 
ringing debates between those seeking to prevent the spread of slavery and those 
advocating its extension. The short-term issue was how Missouri's admission as a 
state in which slavery would be legal might disturb the delicate balance of free and 
slave states in the Senate. Early in 1820, Macon rose in that body to deliver his 
most passionate speech since calling for war with England in 1812. He rejected the 
claims of some members that the Declaration of Independence, in which "all men 
are created equal," was part of the Constitution and argued that slavery was in fact 
a positive good — that it benefited both former Africans and white society. 57 
Macon argued that if Congress could restrict slave ownership in Missouri, it might 
likewise abolish the practice in other sovereign states. There was no constitutional 
authority for Congress to do either, in his view. Suppose universal emancipation 
occurred, Macon asked. What might result? A situation like the one in which 
Revolutionary France freed the slaves of Santo Domingo three decades earlier and 
opened the way to violence and chaos? Could the present Constitution survive? 
Macon feared it would not: "Because the rich would, in such circumstances want 
titles and hereditary distinctions; the negro food and raiment; and they [the 
emancipated] would be as much or more degraded, than in their present condition. 
The rich might hire those wretched people, and with them attempt to change this 
Government. . . ." 58 

After he retired from the Senate in 1828, numerous politicians still sought 
Macon's opinions, knowing in what high regard he was held not only in his native 
state, but also throughout the South. During the Nullification Crisis of the early 

56. Annals of Congress, 16th Cong., 2d sess., 144; Price, "Nathaniel Macon, Planter," 212. Like Albert 
Gallatin, Macon believed that public debt fueled speculation, that speculators consumed extravagantly 
in order to spend more, and that their luxury was based in financial manipulation rather than productive 
investment. In Macon's view, extravagance inevitably fostered corruption. See Cornell, Other Founders, 
179-180. 

57. Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," 219-222; Risjord, Old Republicans, 215. 

58. Annals of Congress, 16th Cong., 1st sess., 225; Price, "Nathaniel Macon, Planter," 202. In February 
1820, Macon suggested to a friend in Alabama that he should follow the Missouri debates because 
all other matters before Congress paled in comparison. He recommended the National Intelligencer 
(Washington, D.C ) newspapet as the best source of information. See Nathaniel Macon to Boiling Hall, 
February 13, 1820, Hall Papers. 



Nathaniel Macon, Antifederalist 49 



1830s, from the White House, both Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren 
sought the ex-senator's views. South Carolina, led by John C. Calhoun, was 
arguing that it had the sovereign authority to reject federal laws it deemed 
harmful, such as the tariffs of 1828 and 1832. President Jackson disagreed and was 
prepared to use military force, if necessary, to enforce national authority. Where 
would a strict constructionist and states' rights advocate like Macon stand? 59 

Macon made it clear that he was no nullifier; he told Van Buren, "I am still for 
the union. . . ." About the same time, he wrote to a former congressman: "To 
nullify & be in the union seems to be impossible." States could not reject a federal 
law just because it was detestable to them. What was the only remedy for a state 
then? Secession. 60 As he told Van Buren, "The right to quit, is the best and almost 
only guard against oppression." Macon held that in order to secede, a state would 
be obliged to pay its part of the public debt and to accept that future readmission 
would require the approval of all the other states, but without the right of 
withdrawal, a state could become like unhappy Ireland under Great Britain. 61 

For his part, President Jackson undertook a profound exchange of letters with 
Macon in the throes of the crisis. When Old Hickory reminded Macon that he 
and Jefferson had backed the constitutionally suspect embargo in 1808, the ex- 
congressman replied: "Mr. Jefferson and myself may have done wrong, in the very 
hot times, in which we acted; I, however, never approved of construing the 
Constitution by precedent." Macon rejected the extreme states' rights argument 
of nullitiers but spoke again of the right of secession. He disliked Jackson's Force 
Bill, which granted the chief executive authority to employ the military to enforce 
federal law, and said that if conquered, South Carolina would be "a foreign 
country." The states and the Union could not be kept together by force but only by 
mutual regard and interest. Jackson regarded secession as treasonable, and neither 
he nor Macon ever relented in their stands. That a strong-willed president would 
go to such lengths to argue his position with a leading, albeit retired, Old 
Republican underscores Macon's enduring stature among so many Democratic- 
Republicans. No longer on the national stage in Washington, Macon nevertheless 
remained a palpable link to certain aspects of the American Revolution and to 
Antifederalism. Jacksonian Democrats valued that linkage. 62 

59. Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," 284-288. 

60. McPherson, ed., "Letters to Van Buren," 59; Nathaniel Macon to Boiling Hall, April 14, 1833, Hall 
Papers. 

61. McPherson, ed., "Letters to Van Buren," 59; Wilson, Congressional Career of Macon Followed by 
Letters, 63-65. 

62. Wilson, Congressional Career of Macon Followed by Letters, 61-65; Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," vi, 
284-287. One scholar notes that while Old Repuhlicans such as Macon and Randolph feared 
emancipation, they never made the defense of slavery a central political concern as Calhoun and others 
did. With the exception of the Force Bill, Macon and Randolph were generally strong supporters of 



50 Nathaniel Macon: Three Views of His Character and Creed 




After his election to the House of Representatives in 1795, Albert Gallatin became a member of the finance 
committee and joined the Republican Party. An ally of Nathaniel Macon, Gallatin opposed expansion of the 
military and the Alien and Sedition Acts. He later served as secretary of the treasury under Jefferson and Madison. 
Portrait ot Gallatin from Dictionary of American Portraits, 230. 

That Macon gained so much respect during his long congressional career was 
due more to his practical sense and his steadfast dependability than to his political 
genius. Intellectually, he was no Jefferson, Gallatin, or Calhoun. What he did 
bring to the political arena, however, was an overall consistency of thought and 
action that set him apart from the jockeying for advantage that marked too many 
of his colleagues. Macon's unstinting support of his mercurial, often acerbic 
colleague John Randolph of Roanoke for chairmanship of the powerful Ways and 
Means Committee in the House probably precluded his getting a fourth term as 
Speaker. His refusal after 1804 to participate in the caucus system for choosing 
presidential candidates disappointed such good and powerful friends as Gallatin, 
Crawford, Van Buren, and others. That he voted on the losing side against his 
state's constitution of 1835, after presiding over the convention that wrote it, 
fitted the overall pattern of his career. In this instance, Macon reckoned that the 
new constitution increased the executive power while removing the legislature 



President Jackson. See Richard E. Ellis, The Union at Risk: Jacksonian Democracy, States' Rights, and the 
Nullification Crisis (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 193, 



Nathaniel Macon, Antifederalist 51 



further from the electorate. Fur one who cut his teeth on Antifederalism, that was 
anathema. 65 

Macon took great pride in refusing to seek preferment. In an undated autograph 
note after leaving the Senate, he wrote, "I never solicited any man to vote for me, or 
hinted to him, that I wished him to do so, nor did I ever solicit any person to make 
interest, for me, to he elected to any place." His close friend and protege, Weldon 
Edwards, confirmed as much in his brief biography of Macon and added that once a 
year Macon would attend the first day of court in each county in his district, where 
he met with constituents and answered their questions. Beyond that congenial 
outreach, there was nothing that could be construed as "campaigning." 64 

Macon believed in a democratic localism where voters could know and watch 
their elected representatives. Surely his most notable heir in embracing the ideal 
of democratic localism was Martin Van Buren. For Van Buren, the key to 
understanding American political culture was to recognize and appreciate its 
decentralized character. Suspicion of a strong national state was a cardinal 
principle of Antifederalism, and Van Buren knew that recognizing the role of such 
wariness among the public was essential to comprehending the "mind of 
America." His old friend Nathaniel Macon might not have articulated that view 
so clearly as Van Buren, but he surely would have nodded his assent. Distrust of a 
remote, manipulative central authority is not only a part of the legacy of 
Antifederalism to both Nathaniel Macon and Martin Van Buren, but also to the 
political left and right in modern America as well. 65 



63. Barr\', "Nathaniel Macon," 237; Boyd, History of North Carolina: The Federal Period, 56-57; William E. 
Dodd, "The Place of Nathaniel Macon in Southern History," American Historical Review 7 (July 1902): 
667-668; Price, "Nathaniel Macon, Planter," 210. 

64- Nathaniel Macon, undated autograph note, Nathaniel Macon Manuscripts, Duke Special 
Collections; Weldon N. Edwards, Memoir of Nathaniel Macon, of North Carolina (Raleigh, N.C.: Raleigh 
Register Steam Power Press, 1862), 11-12. 

65. Cornell, Other Founders, 298-305. 



Nathaniel Macon, Planter 



When the convention to consider changing the constitution of North Carolina 
convened in Raleigh in June 1835, the delegates gathered from every corner of 
the state unanimously chose as presiding officer the most venerated man among 
them: Nathaniel Macon of Warren County. The seventy-six-year-old Macon, 
thrice Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and later U.S. senator, had 
returned to his native state since retiring from the national arena in 1828. As had 
been the case with every elective office he had held throughout a political career 
that began in 1781, Macon had not sought presidency of the convention, but he 
willingly accepted it. He asked the delegates to be patient with him since he had 
become "rusty" regarding rules of procedure during his retirement. Surprisingly 
vocal during the convention, Macon offered many comments that were recorded 
by Weston R. Gales, the official reporter of the proceedings. In one of those 
statements, Macon defined himself as a "planter." Gales reported on June 15 of 
Macon: "The term Farmer, he said, was seldom heard in North Carolina, and he was 
glad of it, as it always indicated to him a state of tenantry — he preferred the term 
Planter, which conveyed to his mind more of independence and plenty." 1 

Nathaniel Macon was a planter's son. His own plantation, Buck Spring in 
northeastern Warren County, was a devise from his father, Gideon Hunt Macon. 
Gideon had migrated from his native Virginia to the Shocco Creek area of what 
would become Bute County and later Warren. He settled there about 1737 on the 
"southside of the Roanoke" (the area between the Roanoke and Neuse Rivers west 
of Tarborough) as did another Virginian, Philemon Hawkins. By 1760, Gideon had 
eight children with his wife, Priscilla Jones, and was one of the wealthiest men in 
the county. He was then about forty-five years old. : Gideon Macon would not live 
to be forty-seven. Priscilla acted as executrix when his will was probated in 

1 . Proceedings and Debates of the Convention of North-Carolina Called to Amend the Constitution of the State, 
which Assembled at Raleigh, June 4, 1835 (Raleigh, N.C.: Joseph Gales and Son, 1336), 91-92; Raleigh 
Register, June 9, 1835. The best-known biography or Macon and one that is still useful is William E. 
Dodd, The Life of Nathaniel Macon (Raleigh, N.C.: Edwards and Broughton, 1903). A recent doctoral 
dissertation is the most useful biography of Macon to date. See Stephen J. Barry, "Nathaniel Macon: The 
Prophet of Pure Republicanism, 1758-1837" (Ph.D. diss., State University of New York at Buffalo, 1995). 

2. Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," 2-3; William E. Dodd, "The Place of Nathaniel Macon in Southern 
History," American Historical Review 7 (July 1902): 663. 



Nathaniel Macon, Planter 53 



February 1762. Young Nathaniel, not yet four years old, would receive five 
hundred acres about fifteen miles north of Macon Manor "lying on both sides of 
Hubquarter Creek." Shortly after his twenty-first birthday in 1779, he took up 
residence there and called the place "Buck Spring." It would be home for the rest 
oi his life. 3 

Opportunities for formal schooling for most young gentry in the early South 
were quite limited, in North Carolina especially. Many planters hired a tutor who 
would reside right on the plantation. In 1766, Priscilla Macon agreed with her 
neighbor Philemon Hawkins to engage a tutor to teach her sons John and 
Nathaniel and his, Joseph and Benjamin. The twenty-two-year-old man they 
hired was Charles Pettigrew. Pettigrew would reside with the Hawkinses on their 
plantation three miles north of Bute County Courthouse. Instruction was 
conducted in the courthouse five miles away from Macon Manor to the south — 
thus nearly halfway between the two families. 4 

The choice of Pettigrew was a solid one. Born in Pennsylvania in 1744, young 
Charles moved with his family to Virginia ten years later and in about 1760 to 
Granville County, North Carolina. Raised in a strict Presbyterian family, Charles 
had been schooled in a classical academy in Virginia and then in 1763 began 
studies with the Reverend Henry Pattillo in North Carolina. Pettigrew had been 
immersed in classical Greek and Roman writers during his Virginia days, and in 
Pattillo he encountered a master grammarian. Pettigrew's own teaching would 
center on exercises in Greek and Latin writers. 5 Young Nathaniel Macon was 
much influenced by his teacher, who would advance to greater renown after 
leaving Bute in 1773 to become master of the academy at Edenton. Ultimately, 
Pettigrew (who became an Anglican in 1774) would be first Episcopal 
bishop-elect of North Carolina. 6 

A glance at the writings of Pettigrew and his mentor, Henry Pattillo, resonates 
with the kinds of rhythms that would resound throughout Macon's life. Pattillo in 
1787 advised his readers to avoid "the temptation of riches; and avoid debts and 
foreign frippery ... to pay your public and private debts is rendering to God the glory 

3. Boyd D. Cathey, "Nathaniel Macon and Buck Spring" (report, Research Branch, Division of Archives 
and History, Raleigh, 1975), Nathaniel Macon Section (this report does not have numbered pages); 
Shawn Bonath, "Buck Spring: Archaeology of an Old South Plantation" (report, Research Branch, 
Division of Archives and History, Raleigh, 1978), 1-2. 

4- Richatd M. Weaver, The Southern Tradition at Bay: A History of Postbellum Thought (1968; reprint, 
Washington, D.C.: Regnery Gateway, 1989), 56-65; Merntt Bloodworth Pound, "Colonel Benjamin 
Hawkins. North Carolinian, Benefactor of the Southern Indians," parts 1 and 2, North Carolina Historical 
Review 19 (January/April 1942): 1-3; Dodd, Life of Nathaniel Macon, 4-7. 

5. Sarah McCulloh Lemmon, Parson Pettigrew of the "Old Church," 1744-1807 (Chapel Hill: University 
of North Carolina Press, 1970), 4-8. In 1770, Pettigrew purchased volumes by Terence, Juvenal, Cicero, 
and Ovid tor use in his Bute classroom. 

6. Sarah McCulloh Lemmon, ed., The Pettigrew Papers, 2 vols, to date (Raleigh: Division of Archives and 
History, Department of Cultutal Resources, 1971- ), l:x. 



54 Nathaniel Macon: Three Views of His Character and Creed 




Warren County plantation owner Nathaniel Macon ( 1 758- 1 83 7 ) was thrice elected Speaker of the U.S. House of 
Representatives, served as U.S. senator for thirteen years, and presided over the 1835 state constitutional 
convention. Macon, who ardently supported Republican principles of individual freedom and a limited federal 
government, considered himself a "planter," a term that conveyed to him a sense of "independence and plenty." 
Robert D. Gauley portrait of Nathaniel Macon courtesy of the Architect of the Capitol, Washington, D.C. The 
painting is located in the Speakers Lobby and is part of the U.S. House of Representatives collection. 

due unto his name — That to cultivate your field is to work out your own salvation — 
That to fill your barns with plenty is to lay up treasure in heaven. . . ." Writing to his 
sons in 1797, Pettigrew cautioned them never to be overly confident and to be 
honest and truthful in all of their dealings. "The world is envious and ill-natured," 
he wrote. He enjoined his slave-owning sons to remember about their slaves: "They 
are slaves for life. They are not stimulated to care and industry as white people are, 
who labor for themselves. They do not feel interested in what they do, for arbitrary 
masters and mistresses; and their education is not such as can be expected to inspire 



Nathaniel Macon, Planter 55 



them to sentiments of honor and gratiuide."' Macon's adult attitudes toward his 
plantation, his slaves, his personal conduct, indeed, toward the government of his 
state and nation hore the marks of his teachers. To read his letters or speeches in 
Congress is to hear the lessons of Pattillo and Pettigrew many times over. 

In 1774, young Macon followed his two Hawkins schoolmates and his brother 
to the Presbyterian-affiliated College of New Jersey (later Princeton University). 
The curriculum there was dominated by studies in Greek, Latin, mathematics, 
French, and theology. Macon never completed his Princeton studies. In mid- 1776, 
the faculty and students of the college dispersed at news of a British invasion. 
Nathaniel joined a local militia company and served a tour of duty on the Delaware. 
He may have returned briefly to Princeton but was back home by 1777. Three years 
later Macon was again in the patriot army as British forces concentrated on the 
South. He fought in the Battle of Camden and may have fought at Guilford 
Courthouse before taking a seat in the North Carolina Senate in 1781. s 

That his former teacher would keep up with his Bute Courthouse students is 
attested toby this 1802 letter of Charles Pettigrew to Benjamin Hawkins: "Sir, the 
prosperity and respectability of any of my old pupils gives me the sincerest 
pleasure, and I am particularly pleased to find that your old schoolmate Macon 
makes so respectable a figure in Congress." 9 Pettigrew likewise would have been 
pleased that Macon remained a reader of the Bible and Greek, Roman, and 
English history throughout his life. Macon was fond of telling young visitors to 
Buck Spring that no one ever surpassed Homer in poetry, Demosthenes in oratory, 
Samson in strength, and Solomon in wisdom. 10 

In an 1814 letter to a young kinsman who had requested advice on schooling, 
Macon wrote, "while you are young make yourself acquainted with the history of 
England. . . . next to being acquainted with the history of our own country, we 
ought to be acquainted with the history of that, because our laws and customs are 
in very great measure derived from her." Further on he said, "read the histories of 
Greece 6k Rome, and not to forget the Bible & testament, with them everyone 

7. Quoted in Robert M. Calhoon, ed., "An Agrarian and Evangelical Culture," in The North Carolina 
Experience: An Interpretive and Documentary History, ed. Lindley S. Butler and Alan D.Watson (Chapel 
Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984), 180-183. Henry Pattillo was chairman of the Bute 
County Committee of Safety at the start of the American Revolution. See Bute County Committee of 
Safety Minutes, 1775-1776 (Warrenton, N.C.: Warren County Bicentennial Committee, 1977), 2, 12. 

8. Undated manuscript in Macon's hand in Nathaniel Macon Manuscripts, Rare Book, Manuscript, and 
Special Collections, Petkins Library, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina; C. L. Grant, ed., 
Letters, Journals, and Writings of Benjamin Hairkins, 2 vols. (Savannah, Ga.: Beehive Press, 1980), l:ix; 
Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," 5-6. Four of Macon's biographers (Edward Cotten, Weldon Edwards, Dodd, 
and Barn) have slightly differing accounts of how long he was at Princeton and when he returned to 
North Carolina. They also differ on his Revolutionary war service. Dodd and Barry are most reliable, and 
Barry is best on Macon's military record. See Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," 5-11. 

9. Lemmon, Pettigreiv Papers, 1:295-296. 

10. Edwatd R. Cotten, Life of Hon. Nathaniel Macon of North Carolina (Baltimote: Lucas and Deaver, 
1840), 258, 261. 



56 Nathaniel Macon: Three Views of His Character and Creed 



ought to be well acquainted." He closed with this practical suggestion: "A very 
good plan to improve yourself, would be to read a paper in the Spectator or 
Guardian, and then write as near like it, as you can, after writing compare yours and 
the original together, this is the plan which Dr. [Benjamin] Franklin when young 
adopted to improve himself and his style and no one has written in a more easy and 
elegant style than the Doctor." 11 

Macon preferred the College of William and Mary (alma mater of his friends 
Thomas Jefferson and John Randolph of Roanoke) over any other in the nation. 
In 1835, he said that it had produced "more celebrated men than any other 
college," in part due to its location in Williamsburg — a community with a busy 
political and social environment. He went on to suggest that the University of 
North Carolina (UNC) would be improved by moving from bucolic Chapel Hill 
to the more vibrant seat of government, Raleigh, because "the manners of boys 
should be attended to as well as their minds." Through education, Macon 
maintained, North Carolinians could "become a virtuous, if not a great people." 12 
Macon served for a long period as a trustee at UNC. His brother John was an 
original trustee of the university, as was Nathaniel's political mentor, Willie Jones. 
Indeed, the Antifederalist Jones and his Federalist nephew-in-law, William R. 
Davie, were from the earliest days of statehood persistent advocates of a public 
university. 15 Macon's views on education were consistent with those of an entire 
generation of Revolutionary leaders in the South, if not of the nation as a whole. 
Most members of that elite southern generation, like Macon, were planters. 14 

The native country and lifelong home of Nathaniel Macon was one of the 
richest agricultural regions of North Carolina and the South. Watered by the 
Roanoke River, its farms produced abundant crops and livestock." The river 

11. Nathaniel Macon to Francis A. Thornton, October 20, 1814, Nathaniel Macon Papers, Private 
Collections, State Archives, North Carolina Office of Archives and History, Raleigh, hereinafter cited as 
Macon Papers. The erratic punctuation and capitalization are Macon's own and are not unique to his 
generation of Americans. See James Marvin Helms, "The Early Career of Nathaniel Macon: A Study in 
Pure Republicanism" (Ph.D. diss., University of Virginia, 1962), 8. 

12. Proceedings and Debates of the Convention, 1835, 43. In 1826, Macon had written, "Had I a son, he 
would not be sent to a college north of Virginia." Nathaniel Macon to Boiling Hall, March 18, 1826, 
Boiling Hall Papers, State Archives, Alabama Department of Archives and Histoty, Montgomery 
(photocopies in State Archives, Raleigh), hereinafter cited as Hall Papers. For Nathaniel Macon's long 
career of service to the University of North Carolina, see Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," 276. 

13. Blackwell P. Robinson, William R. Davie (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1957), 
225, 267. Don Higginbotham rightly questions how "tadical" a leader Jones was prior to 1787 when young 
Macon was first coming to know him. See Don Higginbotham, "The Politics of Revolutionary North 
Carolina: A Preliminary Assessment," in War and Politics in Revolutionary America: The Wider Dimensions 
of the Conflict, ed. Don Higginbotham (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1988), 69-70. 

14. Jackson Turner Main, The Social Structure of Revolutionary America (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton 
University Press, 1965), 50-67. Southern planters believed that education beyond the primary level was 
solely for members of their social class. Higher education carried a mandate for public service. See 
Weaver, The Southern Tradition at Bay, 56-63. 

15. Johann David Schoepf, Travels in the Confederation, 1785-1784, trans. Alfred J. Morrison, 2 vols. 
(Philadelphia: William J. Campbell, 1911), 2:121; Elkanah Watson, Men and Times of the Revolution, ed. 



Nathaniel Macon, Planter 57 



began in the mountains west of Roanoke, Virginia, and fell four hundred miles to 
the Albemarle Sound. The flat valley that it passed through in North Carolina was 
chiefly in Halifax, Bertie, Northampton, and Warren Counties ( in descending order 
of affected acreage). Before the river was harnessed by a dam in the 1950s, it often 
flooded. Those floods produced some of the richest soil in America. 16 Nathaniel 
Macon's Buck Spring was less than four miles from the Roanoke River. 17 

The social and commercial centers of Macon's country were the towns of 
Halifax and Warrenton. Although Buck Spring was twelve miles from Warrenton 
and twice that far from Halifax, Macon's public and private life were linked to the 
towns both politically and culturally. lB In 1767, the population of Halifax County 
was 8,775 (6,210 white and 2,545 black) and of Bute County (from which Warren 
and Franklin Counties were formed in 1779), 7,104 (5,326 white and 1,778 
black). Only the Lower Cape Fear Valley had a greater density in pre- 
Revolutionary North Carolina. By 1776, the proportion of slaves living on large 
plantations in the Roanoke Valley was comparable to the distributive patterns in 
Tidewater Virginia and Maryland. 19 Macon's country was thus linked to the larger 
"world" of the Chesapeake region via Halifax County and the slightly smaller and 
less grand places of the eastern Piedmont via Warren. 20 Throughout his life, 

Winslow C. Watson (New York: Dana and Co., 1856), 58; J. F. D. Smyth, A Tour in the United States of 
America, 2 vols. (Dublin: T. Henshall, 1784), 1:57; Norman K. Risjord, Chesapeake Politics, 1781-1800 
(New York: Columbia University Press, 1978), 55-56. In 1954, Caledonia State Prison Farm in Halifax 
County produced more corn, beet, pork, and poratoes by far than any other farm in the state's prison 
system. See Bill Sharpe, A New Geography of North Carolina, 4 vols. (Raleigh, N.C.: Sharpe Publishing 
Co., 1954), 1:152. 

16. Eliiabeth W. Wilborn, Boyd D. Cathey, and Jerry L. Cross, "The Roanoke Valley: A Report for the 
Historic Halifax State Historic Site" (report, Research Branch, Division of Archives and History, 
Raleigh, 1974), Part 1, B (this report does not have numbered pages); Jane Turner Censer, North Carolina 
Planters and their Children , 1800-1860 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1984), 1; Cornelius 
Oliver Cathev, Agricultural Developments in North Carolina, 1783-1860 (Chapel Hill: University of North 
Carolina Press, 1956), 53. 

17. B. Cathey, "Nathaniel Macon and Buck Spring," Nathaniel Macon and Buck Spring Section. 

18. Wilborn, Cathey, and Cross, "The Roanoke Valley," Part I, G; Manly Wade Wellman, The County of 
Warren, North Carolina, 1586-1917 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1959), 70. 

19. Marvin L. Michael Kay and Lorin Lee Cary, "A Demographic Analysis of Colonial North Carolina 
with Special Emphasis upon the Slave and Black Populations," in Black Americans in North Carolina and 
the South, ed. Jeffrey J. Crow and Flora J. Harley (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984), 
77, 82-83, 88; Marvin L. Michael Kay and Lorin Lee Cary, Slavery in North Carolina, 1748-1775 (Chapel 
Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995), 24. The Northern Inner Plain Piedmont (Halifax, 
Edgecombe, Bute, Granville, and Northampton Counties) had a free black population comprising 6.77 
percent ot the total black population in 1767; the Lower Cape Fear region, only 1.06 percent. The 
average free black population for the entire state was 5.35 percent of the total black population. 

20. Risjord, Chesapeake Politics, 48-51; Robinson, William R. Davie, 150; Robert Dawidoff, The Education 
of John Randolph (New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1979), 34-35. Cultural distinctions between the 
towns of Halifax and Warrenton wete slight, although Halifax was more of a commercial center. Where 
their respective counties were concerned though, Halifax was the westetn limit of the northern Coastal 
Plain, and Warren was the eastern limit of the notthern Piedmont. Buck Spring was on the botderof the 
two regions. 



58 



Nathaniel Macon: Three Views of His Character and Creed 



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Nathaniel Macon, Planter 59 



Macon would evince elements of Chesapeake sophistication and Piedmont rusticity. 
He surely was more emotionally attached to the latter, but to think that he spurned 
the former is to fail to comprehend him. 

On the eve of the American Revolution, the banks of the Roanoke River in 
North Carolina were dotted with warehouses storing goods for shipment to 
markets. The port town of Halifax then had about fifty houses and three taverns in 
addition to several warehouses. Since 1758, public warehouses in the town were 
authorized to inspect tobacco bound for market. Prior to that, farmers in the area 
went to Virginia tor such inspections. Hogsheads of tobacco, wheat, and other 
agricultural products as well as large quantities of lumber were loaded onto 
piraguas, flatboats, and even two-masted sloops to travel the sixty miles downriver 
to Edenton and the Albemarle Sound. The town of Halifax was the upper limit of 
the Roanoke for vessels able to transport up to two hundred hogsheads, and thus it 
became the nearest hub of market access for many farms in upper North 
Carolina. 21 

Further enhancing the commercial advantages of Halifax were biennial fairs 
(first authorized by the General Assembly in 1777) for the sale of horses, cattle, 
sheep, hogs, tobacco, and merchandise. Newspaper advertisements in 1792 
include those for hairdressers, tailors, clockmakers, booksellers, slave auctions, 
and thoroughbred horse sales. 22 Visitor J. F. D. Smyth in late-eighteenth-century 
Halifax observed woolens, linens, shoes, books, hats, liquor, and sugar being 
imported and tobacco, skins, furs, cotton, butter, and flour as exports. By 1786, 
Halifax County was the most populous in the state with 10,327 people and a black 
majority (50.7 percent). 23 Also in 1786, Halifax hosted a three-day cockfighting 
match with rival birds from Virginia, and hundreds of spectators crowded the 
town for the event. By 1793, horse races were regularly staged in the town each 
spring and fall. Indeed, cockfighting and horse racing would become near- 
obsessions of Roanoke Valley planters from the time of the Revolution until 
1840. 24 Warrenton regularly hosted such events, and Nathaniel Macon's family 

21. Harry Roy Merrens, Colonial North Carolina in the Eighteenth Century: A Study in Historical Geography 
(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1964), 156; Charles Christopher Crittenden, The 
Commerce of North Carolina, 1763-1789 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1936), 15-17; 
Risjord, Chesapeake Politics, 56, 63; Robinson, William R. Davie, 141-147. Eighteenth-century North 
Carolina was by no means cut off from seaborne commerce. In 1770, over 23,000 tons sailed from the 
colony's ports — more than New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, or Georgia that 
same year. Furthermore, most North Carolina exports sailed from either Charleston or Norfolk (rather than 
its own ports), perhaps as much as two-thirds, and are thus not counted in the 1770 total. Not until the 
much larger tonnages of steam vessels in the nineteenth century would Tar Heel ports seem so deficient. 
See Carville Earle and Ronald Hoffman, "Urban Development in the Eighteenth-Century South," 
Perspectives in American Historv 10 (1976); 18n, 27; Kay and Cary, Slavery in North Carolina, 28-29. 

22. Robinson, William R. Davie, 141-142; North-Carolina Journal (Halifax), August 29, September 5, 
October 17, November 14, 1792. 

23. Smyth, Tour in the United States, 1:61; Robinson, William R. Davie, 141-142. 

24- Robinson, William R. Davie, 145-146; Wilborn, Cathey, and Cross, "The Roanoke Valley," Part I, G; 
Censer, North Carolina Planters, 15. The best account ot the horse-racing culture in the Roanoke Valley is 



60 Nathaniel Macon: Three Views of His Character and Creed 



Bible contains in his own hand entries on births, deaths, mamages, and transactions 
regarding his slaves, his thoroughbreds, and his family members in that order. 25 

The intense rivalries with their Virginia neighbors that characterized gaming 
in North Carolina border counties like Halifax and Warren carried over into 
many other activities as well. From at least as early as William Byrd's History of the 
Dividing Line in the 1730s through Joseph Seawell ("Shocco") Jones's defense of 
Revolutionary zeal in North Carolina in 1834 to arguments about whose troops 
advanced further at Gettysburg, Cavaliers and Tar Heels have been sniping at one 
another for centuries over a whole range of claims and counterclaims. Yet the 
southern counties of Virginia and the northern counties of North Carolina were 
more alike than different. In early Halifax, Virginia paper money was the principal 
currency, and Nathaniel Macon always preferred Petersburg as a market for his 
crops. 26 Business, kinship, cultural, and political ties drove many more Virginia 
and North Carolina planters together than apart. The long friendships of Macon 
with Thomas Jefferson and John Randolph of Roanoke testify to such links. 

Besides Halifax, the other centripetal force of Nathaniel Macon country was 
the town of Warrenton, county seat of Warren. With the end of the Tuscarora 
War, about 1720, white settlers from southern Virginia began crossing the Roanoke 
to take up lands in what would become Warren County. 27 One such settler was 
Nathaniel's father, who had established a tobacco plantation on Shocco Creek as 
detailed earlier. Late in the 1730s, Gideon Macon joined with neighbors Edward 
Jones and Philemon Hawkins to improve their access to markets. The three 
planters set out to upgrade the nearby Tuscarora trading path to Petersburg and by 
1741 had done so. Their wealth grew accordingly, and by his death in 1762, 
Gideon had acquired over three thousand acres of land in Warren County, 
including the parcel near the Roanoke that would become Buck Spring. 28 

Warrenton became the seat of county government in 1779. Its central location 
and close proximity to part of the Western Great Road made it a logical choice to 
supersede Bute Courthouse near Macon Manor. In 1786, Warrenton Male 

Henry W. Lewis, "Horses and Horsemen in Northampton before 1900," North Carolina Historical Review 
51 (April 1974): 125-148. 

25. Macon-Eaton Family Bible, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North 
Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Macon Papers, State Archives, contain a leather-bound volume entitled 
The Racing Calendar Abridged, published in London in 1829 and inscribed to Macon "from an old and 
steadfast friend/ J. R. of Roanoke." 

26. Risjord, Chesapeake Politics, 48-51. When this writer lived in Warrenton as a boy in the 1940s, his 
Warren County-native parents took him to Virginia Beach (not Nags Head) for summer vacations and to 
Richmond (not Raleigh) for holiday shopping. Bill Sharpe reported a Halifax resident saying in 1954: 
"Miller-Rhoads [department store] in Richmond, that's paradise for our women folk." See Sharpe, New 
Geography of North Carolina, 1:157. 

27. Wellman, County of Warren, 9. Warren County was named in honor of Joseph Warren of 
Massachusetts, who died at the Battle of Bunker Hill. 

28. Wellman, County of Warren, 18-24; Dodd, Life of Nathaniel Macon, 2-4; Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," 2-3. 



Nathaniel Macon, Planter 



61 



Asst v""' • ■<■■ ' 
■ Eg?** • 




• ooR-nnnTnio 



In 1 786, Halifax County was the most populous in the state, with a population of 10,327 and a black majotity. The 
port town of Halifax, on the Roanoke River, became an important commercial hub for farms in upper North 
Carolina. Cocktighting was one ot the city's popular attractions among wealthy planters. In 1 786, Halifax hosted 
a three-day cocktighting match with rival birds from Virginia, and hundreds of spectators attended the event. 
This depiction of cocktighting by David Hunter Strother (pen name Porte Crayon) is from Harper's New Monthly 
Magazine 14 (May 1857): 753. 

Academy opened to students. By 1794, the town was the crossroads of two 
important mail routes: Petersburg to Augusta, Georgia, and Halifax to Salisbury. 29 
When the prominent merchant and educator Jacob Mordecai settled in 
Warrenton in 1787, there were a few houses in the village but much potential for 
growth since tobacco bound for Petersburg and Richmond was being stored there. 
By the time the Mordecais opened their respected boarding school for girls in 
1809, there were several substantial dwellings in town. 30 

The Roanoke Valley passion for horses and fighting birds prevailed in 
Warrenton as surely as it did in Halifax. The most famous southern horseman of 
his day, William Ransom Johnson, built a racetrack near Warrenton in the 1790s. 



29. Wellman, Counts of Warren, 68-70; Daniel B. Thorp, "Taverns and Tavern Culture on the Southern 
Colonial Frontier: Rowan County, North Carolina, 1753-1776," Journal of Southern History 62 
(November 1996): 664-666; Sharpe, Neu' Geography of North Carolina, 4:2203. 

30. James A. Padgett, ed., "The Life of Alfred Mordecai as Related by Himself," North Carolina Historical 
Review 22 (January 1945): 59, 64-67. 



62 Nathaniel Macon: Three Views of His Character and Creed 



In 1808, his famed thoroughbred, Sir Archie, beat all of the best four-milers from 
Maryland to Georgia. Nathaniel Macon regularly attended the spring races in 
Warrenton from as early as 1805. 31 Eleven years later the town had sixteen licensed 
taverns, reflecting its growth as a social center. By 1824 (and likely earlier), the 
fall races in Warrenton were regularly accompanied by formal balls and 
subscription banquets. 32 

From the end of the Revolution until the start of the Civil War, homes of 
stunning grandeur would be built in Halifax, Warrenton, and their environs. Most 
of them are gone now, but of the dozen or so that remain a watchful observer can 
gain a palpable sense Of the vitality and immense wealth that characterized the 
Roanoke Valley elite. 33 

Outside the vibrancy of Halifax and Warrenton and just beyond the rich soil of 
the Roanoke Valley, most planters in upper North Carolina lived less grand lives. 
Markets were harder to reach and crops harder to grow. Between 1790 and 1820, 
North Carolina saw more than 200,000 people emigrate, largely to territories 
opening up to the south and west. 34 Nathaniel Macon observed both the plenty of 
some of his neighbors and the precarious marginality of others. Although he was a 
successful planter, Macon was never as rich as Roanoke families like the Eatons 
and Williamses. He worked hard at Buck Spring when there and when away kept 
as close an eye on it as mail communications of the day permitted. Macon knew 
about the perilous balance of certain farming operations from close personal 
experience. 

At the time of the American Revolution, over 95 percent of Americans 
farmed. 35 In North Carolina agriculture was not just an economic force but a way 
of life. At Macon's Buck Spring (and to the Piedmont south and west), tobacco 
was the principal crop, even after cotton production accelerated after 1800. 
Roanoke Valley planters grew corn for their own use but also for sale (unlike most 
Tar Heel farmers), and other crops included wheat and a variety of fruits and 
vegetables. Livestock and poultry were everywhere, and hogs often ran wild 

31. Wilborn, Cathey, and Cross, "The Roanoke Valley," Part I, G; Wellman, County of Warren, 77-81. 
Two days of spring races in Warrenton were advertised in the Raleigh Register, May 27, 1800. 

32. Wellman, County of Warren, 94; Warrenton Reporter, October 22, 1824- The Warrenton fall races 
began on September }Q, 1829, and lasted four days with balls on the evenings of the second and third 
days. See advertisement in Halifax Minerva, September 3, 1829. 

33. Catherine W. Bishir. North Carolina Architecture (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 
1990), 88-96, 253-257. Most of the grander dwellings in the region were built after Macon died, but he 
certainly knew some splendid early examples that no longer exist, like Willie Jones's "Grove," just outside 
Halifax. At the 1835 Constitutional Convention, Macon said that he would rather live in North 
Carolina than anywhere else. There were not "so many splendid houses, but the people generally had 
comfortable dwellings and good plantations." See Proceedings and Debates of the Convention, 1835, 91-92. 

34. C. Cathey, Agricultural Developments in North Carolina, 25-26, 45-47. 

35. Bill McKibben, "Some Versions of Pastoral," New York Review of Books, July 1 1 , 1996. By 1996, fewer 
than 1 percent of Americans farmed full time. 



Nathaniel Macon, Planter 



63 




Wealthy northeastern North Carolina planters were passionate about horse racing. William Ransom Johnson, the 
premier southern horseman of his day, built a racetrack near Warrenton in the 1790s. In 1808, his famed 
thoroughbred, Sir Archie, beat all of the best four-milers from Maryland to Georgia. Nathaniel Macon often 
attended the spring races in Warrenton. By 1824, the fall races were regularly accompanied by formal balls and 
subscription banquets. Engraving of Sir Archie from Henry William Herbert, Franfc Forester's Horse and 
Horsemanship, 2 vols. (New York: Stringer and Townsend, 1857), 1: facing 122. 



foraging for rood while awaiting slaughter. North Carolina farms were generally 
smaller and more self -sufficient than those in other southern states. In fact, the 
average agricultural producing unit in North Carolina actually shrank in acreage 
between 1800 and 1860 as the white population increased. Most farmers (and 
planters too) followed the same practices year after year, usually to the detriment 
of overall production. ,6 If thousands of Tar Heel farmers emigrated in search of a 
better living, the vast majority stayed rooted to places they knew, survived on, and 
even occasionally prospered from. Many would subscribe to the warm sentiments 
expressed by Macon to a fellow planter in 1 828: "Fine weather for planting corn or 
any other kind of plantation work, to those who have it [to] do. . . . with you the 
birds are singing, all your domestic fowls lively, gay, strutting and making a 
cheerful noise, your people employed, at work ... all merry & in good humor, this 
is truly faring well. 



"37 



36. C. Cathey, Agricultural Developments in North Carolina, 49, 107, 118-120, 126, 181, 194-196. In 1823, 
Macon said of Buck Spring: "on one plantation the war [of 1812] system has been continued, that is not 
much tor sale & buy less, it is true the land is poor and stony, but it is honestly made, enough to have full 
bellies and warm clothes tor any time of the year." Nathaniel Macon to Boiling Hall, June 20, 1823, Hall 
Papers. 

37. Nathaniel Macon Co Weldon Edwards, March 28, 1828, Macon Papers. 



64 Nathaniel Macon: Three Views of His Character and Creed 



When he became twenty-one in late 1779, Macon took up residence at Buck 
Spring. The five hundred acres (and three slaves) devised to him were in the 
northeastern corner of Warren County. Macon would acquire more land over 
time, and at his death in 1837, Buck Spring plantation consisted of 1,945 acres 
and nearly eighty slaves. 38 His dwelling was a modest but efficient structure of logs 
covered with weatherboard outside and an oak ceiling inside. The house measured 
sixteen feet by twenty, and it sat in a grove of white oaks seventy-five yards from a 
spring where deer watered, hence the name Buck Spring. The structure was 
originally intended as a weaving room in a larger complex of plantation buildings 
and had one large room with a fireplace downstairs and a loft above. Beneath the 
dwelling was a wine cellar. 39 

When Macon married Hannah Plummer of Warren County in 1783 and 
brought her to Buck Spring, there was a kitchen within fifteen yards of the 
dwelling. It was eighteen by twenty feet and almost identical to the residence 
except for a bigger fireplace. The downstairs was the dining room, and the two 
Macon daughters, Betsy and Seigniora (born in 1784 and 1787), slept upstairs. As 
they grew older, they would entertain friends at Buck Spring, and quilts would be 
spread on the floors of the kitchen to accommodate girls visiting overnight. 40 
Macon intended to build a larger house for his family and had selected a site about a 
hundred yards from the small dwelling, but with the death of Hannah early in 1790, 
he abandoned such plans. The modest residence that was home for the rest of his life 
and in which he would die in 1837 was as unpretentious and solid as its owner. 41 

Over time, Macon would add a dairy, a smokehouse, and a granary to the site, 
all in the same basic style as the dwelling. A barn, stables, and slave cabins located 
a couple of hundred yards from the residence lined a road that ran through the 
middle of the plantation. A bedroom in the dairy loft was furnished for visitors and 

38. Bonath, "Buck Spring Archaeology," 1-2; B. Cathey, "Nathaniel Macon and Buck Spring," 
Nathaniel Macon Section; Cotten, Life of Hon. Nathaniel Macon, 249. Shortly after the marriage of his 
younger daughter in 1807, Macon divided his real holdings into three parts, giving one each to his two 
matried daughtets and retaining one. He loaned eleven slaves apiece to each daughter and then 
bequeathed those slaves to his daughters' heirs in his 1837 will. See Macon's will in Warren County 
Original Wills, 1779-1936, State Archives. 

39. Mrs. V. L. Pendleton, "The Home of Nat. [sic] Macon," The North Carolina Teacher 6 (December 
1888): 198-202; Bonath, "Buck Spring Archaeology," 3-5; B. Cathey, "Nathaniel Macon and Buck 
Spring," Nathaniel Macon and Buck Spring Section. A reconstruction of the tesidence and a large 
restored corncrib stand on their original sites and may be visited by the public. Warren County owns the 
sites and several acres surrounding them. 

40. Bonath, "Buck Spring Archaeology," 6; B. Cathey, "Nathaniel Macon and Buck Spring," Nathaniel 
Macon and Buck Spring Section; Cotten, Life of Hon. Nathaniel Macon, 80, 248. Edward Cotten, a 
contemporary visitor to Buck Spring, notes that Macon especially enjoyed the company of young people. 

41. B. Cathey, "Nathaniel Macon and Buck Spring," Nathaniel Macon Section. Macon's six-year-old 
son, Plummer, died in 1792. Macon did not stand for election to Congress (despite earlier pleas from 
constituents) until after Hannah's death. Although his daughters grew to adulthood, they both died years 
before their fathet. 



Nathaniel Macon, Planter 65 



was the favored spot of John Randolph of Roanoke on his not-infrequent visits to 
Buck Spring. 4 " Close political allies in Congress from Randolph's entry there in 
1799, Macon and Randolph were even closer personal friends. As profound as was 
their devotion to Old Repuhlican principles, matching it was their passion for 
their region, for deer and fox hunting, for the dogs of the chase, and for 
thoroughbred horses. 4 ' 

To own large plantation houses would have seemed ostentatious of the 
widowed Macon and the unmarried Randolph. It was Thomas Jefferson who had 
called Macon "Ultimus Romanorum" — the last of the Romans, and the 
characterization was apt. In De Officiis, Cicero had said that the dwelling of a 
magnanimous man should not he large hut just sufficient to accommodate the 
needs of family and friends. Macon and Randolph, who read and admired Cicero, 
surely agreed. 44 

Macon worked in the fields of Buck Spring alongside his slaves until age 
precluded that in 1817. Congress was adjourned during most of planting and 
harvesting time, and Macon hired an overseer those months when he was away in 
Washington. 4 '' His correspondence through the years often reflects his interest in, 
concern for, and pleasure in plantation work and play. Writing from Buck Spring 
in September 1802, Macon reported a good corn crop, better cotton, but poor 
tobacco. Over the years until his death, Macon would report on the ups and downs 
of various crops, including wheat and sundry fruits and vegetables, but corn, cotton, 



42. Bonath, "Buck Spring Archaeology," 19-22. Drawings in this report convey a sense of the layout of 
the plantation. Randolph's own plantation, "Roanoke," was about sixty miles from Buck Spring in 
Virginia and shared many similarities in building design and physical layout. See William Cabell Bruce, 
John Randolph of Roanoke, 1773-1833, 2 vols. (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1922), 2:355-357; 
Dawidoff, Education of John Randolph, 36. 

43. B. Cathey, "Nathaniel Macon and Buck Spring," Nathaniel Macon and Buck Spring Section; Cotten, 
Life of Hon . Nathaniel Macon, 1 29. Over fifty pedigreed horses were foaled at Buck Spring during Macon's 
lifetime. 

44. John Hill Wheeler, Historical Sketches of North Carolina from 1524 to 1851, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: 
Lippincott, Gramho and Co., 1851), 2:436; Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," 1, 239; Eugene D. Genovese, The 
Southern Tradition: The Achievement and Limitations of an American Conservatism (Cambridge, Mass.: 
Harvard University Press, 1994), 4, 68. Edward Livingston of New York and later Louisiana called Macon 
"the Cato of Republicanism," and Thomas Hart Benton said that Macon "was the real Cincinnati^ of 
America." 

45. Thomas Hart Benton, Thirrv Years' View . . . from 1820 to 1850 (1875; reprint, New York: George 
Braziller, 1963), 33; Cotten, Life of Hon. Nathaniel Macon, 111, 252-253. Macon usually employed men 
from the neighboring Shearin family as overseers. Cotten recounts that when Macon's son-in-law 
William Eaton once visited Buck Spring to check on its condition, he pointed out to Lewis Shearin that 
some sheep in an enclosed pasture looked sickly and ought to be let out to graze. Shearin replied that 
before leaving for Washington Mr. Macon had told him that the sheep were to be kept penned, and so 
they would remain even if it meant the death of the whole flock. Eaton told this story to the congressman 
upon his return, and Macon was delighted. 



66 



Nathaniel Macon: Three Views of His Character and Creed 




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Nathaniel Macon, Planter 



67 




Macon took a great deal of interest in both the chores and pleasures of plantation life. He worked in the fields 
alongside his slaves until 1817 and apparently was a stern hut not vicious master. He deemed slavery a curse but 
could see "no means of getting rid of it." His plantation primarily produced corn, cotton, and tobacco, but Macon 
also grew other crops, including wheat and various fruits and vegetables. This photograph of the corncrib at Buck 
Spring is by Michael Southern, courtesy of the State Archives. 

and tobacco dominated his subsequent recountings. 46 He took palpable pleasure in 
reporting on fox and deer hunts and the dogs and horses so essential to the sport. 
At Buck Spring, Macon kept as many as ten thoroughbred horses for guests to use 
during hunts. 4 ' Even when away in Congress, both Macon and John Randolph 



46. Kemp P. Battle, ed., Letters of Nathaniel Macon, John Steele, and William Barry Grove (Chapel Hill: 
University of North Carolina, 1902), 22-23; Nathaniel Macon to Albert Gallatin, June 28, 1806, 
June 30, 1807, Albert Gallatin Papers, New-York Historical Society, New York City (photocopies in 
State Archives, Raleigh), hereinafter cited as Gallatin Papers; Nathaniel Macon to William H. Crawford, 
October 13, 1817, William H. Crawford Papers, Duke Special Collections; Elizabeth Gregory McPherson, 
ed., "Letters from Nathaniel Macon to John Randolph of Roanoke," North Carolina Historical Review 39 
(April 1962): 200-201, 209-211; Nathaniel Macon to Weldon Edwards, December 20, 1829, Novem- 
bers, 1834, January 20, 1835, Katherine Clark Pendleton Conway Collection, Private Collections, State 
Archives, hereinafter cited as Conway Collection; Nathaniel Macon to Weldon Edwards, August 10, 
1833, May 20, 1834, Weldon N. Edwards Papers, Southern Historical Collection, hereinafter cited as 
Edwards Papers. 

47. Edwin Mood Wilson, The Congressional Career of Nathaniel Macon Followed by Letters from Mr. Macon 
and Willie P. Mangiim with Notes by Kemp P. Battle (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1900), 73- 
74; McPherson, "Letters from Nathaniel Macon to John Randolph," 201-202; Nathaniel Macon to 
Weldon Edwards, August 10, 1833, Edwards Papers; Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," 271; Dodd, Life of 
Nathaniel Macon, 371. Roanoke Valley hunts for fox and deer were done on horseback with packs of dogs 
pursuing the prey. Hunters carried guns and wore everyday clothes, not fashionable sporting outfits. An 
excellent description of a deer hunt in eastern North Carolina in 1777 appears in E. Watson, Men and 
Times of the Revolution, 38-39. That method of hunting continued in Warren County through the 
nineteenth century into the twentieth. See Reynolds Price, Clear Pictures: First Loves, First Guides (New 
York: Atheneum, 1989), 135-138. 



68 Nathaniel Macon: Three Views of His Character and Creed 



had thoroughbreds and dogs with them for frequent riding and occasional hunting 
near Georgetown. 48 

The labor force at Buck Spring consisted of African American slaves. Basing 
their judgments in the paternalistic ideal of the day, his contemporaries cited 
Macon as a good master. Friend and biographer Edward Cotten wrote in 1840, 
"Never had slaves a kinder master." Macon personally attended to providing basic 
food, clothing, shelter, and moral instruction. 49 During the Missouri Compromise 
debates in January 1820, Macon had said on the floor of Congress in response to 
criticisms of slavery by another member, "I sincerely wish that he . . . would go 
home with me, or some other Southern member, and witness the meeting between 
the slaves and the owner, and see the glad faces and the hearty shaking of 
hands. . . ." 50 But to fit Macon into the paternalistic mold is not to say that he 
viewed his slaves as "children." He made it clear more than once that his slaves 
were property to be used and disposed of as his needs dictated. 51 

As an on-site master, Macon was stern but not vicious. He fretted over sick 
slaves and sometimes personally attended the ill. When one of his bondsmen ran 
away from Buck Spring in 1835, Macon was pleased when he returned "without 
quarrel" three days later. 52 In the complex relationship of master and slave that 
was a centerpiece of the plantation world, Macon and Randolph, accompanied by 
trusted slaves, more than once headed into the woods for overnight forays of 
shooting, followed by cleaning and dressing game with knives. Macon's fondness 
for Randolph's body servants (and hunting veterans) was expressed in a letter 
written to the Virginian while he was minister to Russia in 1830: "Tell Old man 
Essex, Johnny & Juba Howdye & that I have a regard for their fidelity & 
attachment to you." 53 

While Macon (along with most of his white contemporaries) viewed African 
Americans as inferior, he fully recognized their potential to fight for freedom. 

48. Dodd, Life of Nathaniel Macon, 174, 302; Bruce, John Randolph of Roanoke, 1:560. Macon, Randolph, 
and other Old Republicans usually hoarded at the same house in Washington during congressional 
sessions. There were stables nearby. 

49. Cotten, Life of Hon. Nathaniel Macon, 77; Weldon N. Edwards, Memoir of Nathaniel Macon of North 
Carolina (Raleigh, N.C.: Raleigh Register Steam Power Press, 1862), 14, 18. Macon required his slaves to 
gather at his house on Sundays when he read the Bible to them. See Dodd, LifeofNathaniclMacon, 376. 

50. Quoted in Calhoon, "Agrarian and Evangelical Culture," 185. No less an authority than Norman 
Risjord calls this the first defense of slavery as a "positive good" ever made in Congress. See Norman K. 
Risjord, The Old Republicans.: Southern Conservatism in the Age of Jefferson (New York: Columbia 
University Press, 1965), 215. 

51. Nathaniel Macon to Weldon Edwards, May 12, 1828, Macon Papers; Nathaniel Macon speech notes 
(undated but likely 1828), Conway Collection; Proceedings and Debates of the Convention, 1835, 69-70. 
52 Pawidotf, Education oj John Randolph, 52; McPhci^on. "Letter.-, rrom Nathaniel Macon to |ohn 
Randolph," 205-207; Nathaniel Macon to Weldon Edwards, January 20, 1835, Conway Collection; 
Nathaniel Macon to Weldon Edwards, May 20, 1834, Edwards Papers. 

53. Dodd, Life of Nathaniel Macon, 150-151; Bruce, John Randolph of Roanoke, 2:592-594; McPherson, 
"Letters from Nathaniel Macon to John Randolph," 209-211. 



Nathaniel Macon, Planter 69 



He acknowledged that many slaves and some free blacks had fought for the patriot 
cause in the American Revolution, but "they were made no part of the political 
family" in doing so, nor should they have been in his view. He also knew of the 
Gabriel Prosser plot in Richmond in 1800 and a slave uprising in Bertie County in 
1802. 54 African Americans could and did rebel, and Macon knew it. 

In 1797, Congressman Macon had called slavery a curse but could see "no 
means of getting rid of it." As early as 1818, he had deplored the prevailing loose 
interpretation of the U.S. Constitution (in order to establish banks and fund 
internal improvements like roads and canals), because if Congress could do such 
things without explicit authority, it could also emancipate every slave. That 
course, Macon said, meant chaos. 55 As he told John C Calhoun in 1823, "to free 
[slaves] in the south would be the means of destroying either the blacks or whites 
as at San Domingo [in 1791]." 56 

Perhaps nothing speaks more clearly of Macon and his "people" than the 
disposition of his slaves in his will probated in the summer of 1837. He gave to 
each of "the negroes who work in or out a store shirt or shift." He divided his slaves 
among his grandchildren with a request (but not a requirement) "to keep families 
as much together as may be practicable or convenient." In the case of four slaves 
(of the seventy-seven he owned), Macon made special provision: "my faithfull 
Servant Phil and his wife China" plus their present and future increase went to 
grandson Nathaniel Macon Martin. Husband and wife Ephraim and Lucy could 
choose which of the grandchildren they would belong to; if they chose none of 
them, they would then go to Francis Thornton, Macon's kinsman and neighbor. 57 

Thus, for years of unpaid labor, Macon's "people" received an article of clothing 
and transfer to various new owners — even in the case of the two couples specially 
provided for. The rationale for such a system was defined with stark precision by 
Justice Thomas Ruffin in the North Carolina case of State v. Mann (1829). A noted 

54. Proceedings and Debates of the Convention, 1835, 69-70; Raleigh Register, October 7, 1800; Nathaniel 
Macon to Albett Gallatin, June 20, 1802, Gallatin Papers. Macon's racial views closely resembled those 
of Thomas Jefferson. See Paul Finkelman, "Jefferson and Slavery: 'Treason against the Hopes of the 
World,' " in Jefjersonian Legacies, ed. Peter S. Onuf (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993), 
184-186. In Bertie County in 1802, patrollers discovered in Colerain a note containing the names of the 
alleged rebels. The suspects were tried, and altogether, eleven were executed, six deported, and twenty 
more whipped and brutalized. Alan D. Watson, Bertie Count}: A Brief History (Raleigh: Division of 
Archives and History, Department of Cultural Resources, 1982), 1 1. 

55. William K. Boyd, "Nathaniel Macon in National Legislation," Trinity College Historical Society Papers 
(Series 4, 1900), 77-78; Wilson, Congressional Career of Macon Followed by Letters, 46-50. To begin to 
comprehend the role of slavery in the history of North Carolina, the best starting point is Jeffrey J. Crow, 
Paul D. Escort, and Flora J. Hatley, A History of African Americans in North Carolina (Raleigh: Division of 
Archives and History, Department ot Cultural Resoutces, 1992), chaps. 1-4. 

56. Wilson, Congressional Career of Macon Followed by Letters, 67-74. 

57. Warren County Of iginal Wills, 1779-1936, State Archives; Slave inventory (undated but in hand of 
Weldon Edwards, executor), Conway Collection. The real property at Buck Spring was divided between 
Macon's eldest grandsons, William Eaton Jr. and Nathaniel Macon Martin. 



70 Nathaniel Macon: Three Views of His Character and Creed 




Virginia and North Carolina planters were closely connected by business, kinship, and cultural and political ties. 
Macon, in fact, preferred Petersburg as a market for his crops. The Antifederalist Virginia congressman John 
Randolph of Roanoke was one of Macon's close political allies as well as a close personal friend. Randolph 
frequently visited Buck Spring, and both enjoyed riding and hunting with their dogs and thoroughbred horses. 
This portrait of John Randolph by Gilbert Stuart is courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. 

jurist on the highest court, Ruffin wrote: "The end [of slavery] is the profit of the 
master, his security and the public safety. . . . The power of the master must be 
absolute, to render the submission of the slave perfect." 5S Macon, the planter, 
embraced the reasoning undergirding Ruffin's argument. 

Other bequests in Macon's will illustrate his life-style at Buck Spring, his close 
friendship with John Randolph of Roanoke, his reading interests, and his love of 
sport. Carpentry and blacksmithing tools went to grandsons as did turkeys, geese, 

58. State v. Mann, 1829, in Willie Lee Rose, ed., A Documentary 1 History of Slavery in North America (New 
York: Oxford University Press, 1976), 219-224; Censer, NorthCarolina Planters, 144-145. 



Nathaniel Macon. Planter 71 



hogs, and "fruit of every kind." They also divided the silver flatware given to 
Macon hy Randolph. Granddaughters got punch howls, ladles, flatware, wash 
basins, and bed linens. The large quantities of flatware and serving pieces testified 
to Macon's practice of entertaining guests. One grandson received gold sleeve 
buttons that John Randolph had given his old friend; another, a bag of English 
shillings from the famous Virginian. To Sen. Thomas Hart Benton went 
Randolph's pocketknife. 59 

Macon's books (including the family Bible and Sir William Blackstone's 
Commentaries on the Laws of England) plus pamphlets and public documents went 
almost entirely to his eldest grandson. Exceptions included his "encyclopedia" to 
another grandson, two volumes "of [James] Anderson on agriculture" to his 
kinsman and biographer, Congressman Weldon N. Edwards, and individual 
volumes that he designated with labels to specific people. 60 

Items associated with hunting went to family and friends, including a long gun, 
a short gun, a shot bag, a powder horn, a spyglass, and some blowing horns (to rally 
the dogs). His hounds went to a neighbor. Some live deer and a fawn were 
bequeathed to neighbors and a grandson. His chickens were to be divided among 
family and "cockfighting friends." His son-in-law William Eaton got "Hard Rain," 
a thoroughbred. 61 

Finally, Macon instructed his executor: "you may give the people, who may 
come, to the funeral preached over me, a dinner 6k grog as you may please or not 
give as you may please." It pleased Weldon Edwards to do so. In July 1837, the 
Raleigh Register reported that between one thousand and fifteen hundred whites 
and several hundred blacks attended Macon's funeral and that no one left hungry 
or thirsty. A Baptist minister preached the service. 62 



59. Warren County Original Wills, 1779-1936, State Archives; Estate inventory (undated, Weldon 
Edwards's hand), Conway Collection. Randolph had died in 1833. It was Benton who would publish the 
story of Macon once drawing a knife in defense of Randolph during an altercation with some military 
officers in a Philadelphia theater. See Benton, Thirty Years' View, 33. 

60. Benton, Thirty Years' View, 33; Edwards, Memoir of Nathaniel Macon, 6. The North Carolina Museum 
of History has tour of Macon's books, including works by Capt. John Smith, by Adam Smith, and The 
Book of Common Prayer. These accessions are noted in an appendix in B. Cathey, "Nathaniel Macon and 
Buck Spring." This writer owns a volume of eighteenth-century satirical verse that contains this 
bookplate: "Nathanael [sic] Macon/ of Warren County/ North-Carolina." As previously noted, the family 
Bible is at the Southern Historical Collection. It is the Clarendon Press (of Oxford University) printing 
of 1795. 

61. Benton, Thirty Years' View, 33; Edwards, Memoir of Nathaniel Macon, 6. As a boy, this writer knew 
Nathaniel Macon Thornton, a descendant of Macon. He would tell a family story attributed to Macon. 
The master of Buck Spring directed that when he was buried, those present should drag a fox tail around 
his grave with hounds in pursuit while pouring whiskey on the ground covering him. If that did not rouse 
him, then he was truly dead. Macon kept a wine cellar underneath his home for guests but drank corn 
whiskey himself. Dodd, Life of Nathaniel Macon, 372; Bonath, "Buck Spring Archaeology," 16. 

62. Warren County Original Wills, State Archives; B. Cathey, "Nathaniel Macon and Buck Spring," 
appendix; Cotten, Life of Hon. Nathaniel Macon, 262-266. 



72 Nathaniel Macon: Three Views of His Character and Creed 



No one who reads Macon's correspondence can doubt his admiration for the 
Bible. More than once, he bemoaned Americans' pursuit of "false gods" (like 
financial credit and political patronage) as the children of Israel had done 
thousands of years earlier. Such error meant destruction; was that not the clear 
lesson of the Book of Judges? 63 While Macon read the Bible to his slaves on 
Sunday and often attended services at a Baptist meeting near Buck Spring, he 
never joined a church. The Macon family had been Huguenots in France before 
migrating to Virginia in the seventeenth century, and then Episcopalians. Young 
Nathaniel attended the Presbyterian College of New Jersey, and his wife belonged 
to that denomination. But like his good friend John Randolph, Macon declined 
church membership. 64 

Macon stated his religious views most clearly late in life at the 1835 Constitu- 
tional Convention. During debates over the "Protestant test" qualification in the 
original State Constitution of 1776, he stepped down from his chair as president to 
argue from the floor. Macon said that that clause (which required officeholders to 
be Protestants) was the only part of the venerable constitution that he had ever 
voiced objection to outside of North Carolina. Man alone, he declared, is 
responsible to God for his religious faith: "If a Hindoo were to come among us, and 
was fully qualified to discharge the duties of any office to which he might aspire, 
his religion would not constitute an objection. . . . He [Macon] had always thought 
that a mixture of Politics and Religion was the very essence of hypocrisy." He 
pointed out that North Carolina had been discovered by Catholics and that the 
Glorious Revolution of 1688 in England had not "done any essential good — for, 
sir, from that has sprung the bigoted intolerance, which I am sorry to say has 
descended to this generation, and is too plainly manifested here [in this debate]." 
Macon said that fears that Roman Catholics would overrun the country were as 
probable "as that a mouse would kill a buffaloe." 65 

As to his own public practice of religion, Macon said that he was inclined 
toward the Baptists but "was far from believing in all their doctrines." In the final 
analysis, church affiliation counted for little in Macon's view: "If he faithfully 
discharged all his duties on earth, and obeyed the precepts of the Gospel, he would 
not be asked, when he reached Heaven, to what sect he belonged." Although the 
convention did away with the Protestant test, it did propose in the new 
constitution a profession of Christianity for officeholding. Macon preferred no 

63. Nathaniel Macon to Albert Gallatin, February 14, 1824, Gallatin Papers; Wilson, Congrcssiorui! 
Career of Macon Followed by Letters, 84-86. In the 1 826 letter to Bartlett Yancey ptinted in Wilson's book, 
Macon writes that "the whole Bible contains great knowledge of the principles or government." 

64. Dodd, Life of Nathaniel Macon, 2-4, 376-380; Batty, "Nathaniel Macon," 14, 26; Boyd, "Nathaniel 
Macon in National Legislation," 74. Barry reports that Macon did experience a religious conversion as a 
young man. 

65. Proceedings and Debates of the Convention, 1835, 226, 246-248. 



Nathaniel Macon, Planter 



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74 Nathaniel Macon: Three Views of His Character and Creed 



test at all hut voted for the new language as an improvement over the 1776 
constitution. 66 

Macon had undertaken service in the 1835 convention reluctantly. It would be 
his penultimate public act. The following year he agreed to stand as a presidential 
elector for his political ally and close personal friend Martin Van Buren of New 
York, who had once said that he valued Macon's opinion above all others. Having 
voted for Van Buren, Macon spent his remaining months at Buck Spring removed 
from the concerns of the larger world, except for occasionally visiting friends or 
corresponding with Democrats seeking his counsel. He no longer even subscribed 
to a newspaper. 67 

When Macon had retired from the U.S. Senate in 1828, he was almost seventy 
years old. Several factors weighed in his decision: his increasing loss of hearing and 
eyesight; the deaths of his only surviving children (Seigniora in 1825 and Betsy in 
1827); the death of Betsy's husband, William Martin, a Granville County planter, 
in 1828, thus leaving their eleven children orphans; and Macon's recognition that 
the Psalmist allots a man seventy years and no more. In a letter written at Buck 
Spring in the fall of 1828, Macon informed the North Carolina legislature that 
"age and infirmity" made it necessary for him to resign his offices as U.S. senator, 
trustee of the University of North Carolina, and justice of the peace of Warren 
County. He concluded "that no person can be under more obligation to a State, 
than I am to North Carolina, nor feel more strongly & that duty alone has induced 
me to resign." 68 

Even before resigning from the Senate, Macon knew that the country he had 
lived in since colonial times was changing at the national, state, and local levels. 
Nothing so manifestly demonstrated that change as did the swelling interest in 
internal improvements — road construction, canal building, swamp drainage, 
railroad construction, and similar transportation and technological developments. 

66. Proceedings and Debates of the Convention, J 835, 246-248, 331-332; Harold J. Counihan, "The North 
Carolina Constitutional Convention of 1835: A Study in Jacksonian Democracy," North Carolina 
Historical Review 46 (October 1969): 351-353. 

67. Nathaniel Macon to Weldon Edwards, May 24, 1835, Conway Collection; Proceedings and Debates of 
the Convention, 1835, 8-9; John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., Autobiography of Martin Van Buren (Washington: 
Government Printing Office, 1920), 221; Martin Van Buren to Henry Fitts, March 25, 1839, Martin Van 
Buren Papers, Library of Congress, Washington (typed transcripts in Private Collections, State 
Archives); Cotten, Life of Hon. Nathaniel Macon, 263-266; Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," 272, 293. Macon 
thanked Van Buren for a picture of the vice-president sent early in 1836 but reiterated his dislike for such 
things. Macon gave it to his first great-grandson, Van Buren Martin. See Nathaniel Macon to Martin 
Van Buren, January 24, 1836, Macon Papers. 

68. Nathaniel Macon to William Eaton Jr., April 13, 1826, Macon Papers; Benton, Thirty Years' View, 29; 
Nathaniel Macon to Weldon Edwards, May 20, 1834, Edwards Papers; Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," 
261-263, 272-273; Resignation of Nathaniel Macon, November 14, 1828, Session of 1828-1829, General 
Assembly Session Records, State Archives. Seigniora Macon had married the very wealthy Warren 
County planter William Eaton. The spelling of "Seigniora" is that used by her father in recording her 
birth and death in the family Bible. Dodd and some others use a different spelling. 



Nathaniel Macon, Planter 



75 




In 1836, Macon agreed to stand as a presidential elector for his political ally and close personal friend Democrat 
Martin Van Buren of New York, who affirmed that he valued Macon's opinion above all others. Macon apparently 
supported the emergent Democratic Parry's coalition of southern planters and northern Republicans. Engraving of 
Van Buren from Johnson, Fry, and Co. Publishers, New York, courtesy of the author. 



76 Nathaniel Macon : Three Views of His Character and Creed 



The role of federal support for such improvements would be a major battleground 
in Congress from the early days of the new nation. Macon, like Randolph and 
other Old Republicans, regularly opposed the "loose construction" of the U.S. 
Constitution necessary to permit federal funds for internal improvements. 69 

While Macon resisted federal funding of internal improvements, the matter of 
state support was a different proposition. Better still were various private undertakings 
to effect infrastructure changes. Agriculture pursued on independent farms was 
Macon's economic ideal, but he also recognized the inevitable lure of improved 
market access. 70 , 

Between 1784 and 1825, the North Carolina General Assembly incorporated 
thirty-three private navigation companies. In 1790, the legislature chartered the 
Dismal Swamp Canal Company to connect the Pasquotank River with the 
Elizabeth River in Virginia. It was in service for small craft by 1808. The Roanoke 
Navigation Company was chartered in 1812 and organized in 1816. As it would in 
several other projects, the state purchased stock in the company over the years, 
especially after prodding by Archibald Murphey in 1815. Macon himself owned 
stock in the company. Between 1823 and 1834, locks were being constructed 
around the town of Weldon near Halifax. Steamboats were regularly on the 
Roanoke by 182 1 , and the Roanoke Navigation Company was the most successful 
such endeavor in antebellum North Carolina. 71 When the Dismal Swamp Canal 
was improved to accommodate steamboats in 1829, traffic in Halifax and Weldon 
swelled in response. Local newspapers routinely reported on the growing volume 
of goods and passengers moving up and down the Roanoke River. 72 As startling as 
were the improvements to waterways, they would soon be surpassed by the coming 
of the railroads. The first serious proposal for rail development in North Carolina 
came during 1827-1828 from Joseph Caldwell, president of the University of 
North Carolina, in a series of articles in the Raleigh Register. During the 1830s, the 
Raleigh and Gaston (a town on the Roanoke in Northampton County) and the 

69. Russell Kirk, Randolph of Roanoke: A Study in Conservative Thought (Chicago: University of Chicago 
Press, 1951), 60, 68; John Lauritz Larson, "Jefferson's Union and the Problem of Internal Improvements," 
in Onuf, ]effersonian Legacies, 359, 363; Risjord, Old Republicans, 171; Zane L. Miller, "Senator Nathaniel 
Macon and the Public Domain, 1815-1828," North Carolina Historical Review 38 (October 1961): 484, 

491-492. 

70. Harry L. Watson, "Squire Oldvvay and His Friends: Opposition to Internal Improvements in 
Antebellum North Carolina," North Carolina Historical Review 54 (April 1977): 107-109, 1 16. 

71. Charles Clinton Weaver, Internal Improvements in North Carolina Previous to I860 (Baltimote: Johns 
Hopkins Press, 1903), 57-62, 69-72; Alan D. Watson, "North Carolina and Internal Improvements, 
1783-1861: The Case of Inland Navigation," North Carolina Historical Review 74 (January 1997), 39-41, 
51, 71; Wilson, Congressional Career of Macon Followed try Letters, 73-74. 

72. Halifax Minerva, June 25, July 9, August 27, 1829; Roanoke Advocate (Halifax), March 18, May 13, 
1830. Macon observed the incteased traffic around Halifax and Weldon but continued to use Petersburg 
as his market out of "ancient attachment" and because one of his grandsons lived there. See McPherson, 
"Lettets from Nathaniel Macon to John Randolph," 207-21 1. 



Nathaniel Macon, Planter 77 



Wilmington and Weldon Railroads were chartered, and both were completed in 
1840. An earlier rail line from Petersburg to Weldon had opened in 1833. In 1836, 
the Raleigh and Gaston right-of-way was laid out in Warren County, and wooden 
ties were being put down the following year. 7 ' When completed in 1840, the line 
passed within five miles ot Buck Spring. Macon disliked change while recognizing 
its positive attraction for so many. 74 The same man who used Petersburg as a 
market year after year when closer markets opened in his own state, who was 
fascinated by but refused to adopt new cultivation techniques, who was delighted 
by an overseer who would have willingly let sheep die rather than disobey their 
owner's instructions, who dressed plainly in the fashion of the 1780s throughout 
his adult life, and who hoped that the South would cling to its agrarian past and 
remain uncorrupted by the commercialism on the rise in other sections, did not 
readily embrace new ways. 75 

During his last months at Buck Spring, Macon rarely ventured away from it. 
His friend and protege, Weldon Edwards, would sometimes ride over from his 
plantation, Poplar Mount, about fifteen miles away, and the rare day-visitor or 
relative dropping by did not linger. The happy days of the hunt were over for the 
old man. On June 18, 1837, he wrote a letter to the new president of the United 
States, his friend Martin Van Buren, introducing Macon's kinsman Joseph 
Seawell Jones, who was hand delivering it. "My life is fast giving away," Macon 
wrote, "and I know I must soon die." 76 

Macon knew himself well. Although he experienced chest and stomach spasms 
early in June, he continued to ride his horse over the plantation grounds daily. 
About June 22, the discomfort increased, and he was partially confined to his 
house. Friends and neighbors began to drop by each day to check on him. On the 
morning of June 29, Macon arose early as was his usual practice. He shaved, 
dressed, and conversed with those present. About 10:00 A.M. while sitting in a 



73. Allen W. Trelease, The North Carolina Railroad, 1849-1871 , and the Modernization of North Carolina 
(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991), 12-13; Wilborn, Cathey, and Cross, "Roanoke 
Valley," Part 1, H; Wellman, County of Warren, 112-114. 

74. Macon once told Thomas Jefferson that "improvements in the United States have brought machines 
to do almost everything hut speak." See Eli:abeth G. McPherson, ed., "Unpublished Letters from North 
Carolinians to Jefferson," parts 1 and 2, North Carolina Historical Review 12 (July/October 1935): 374. 

75. Nathaniel Macon to Boiling Hall, June 20, 1823, February 10, 1824, Hall Papers; H. Watson, "Squire 
Oldway and His Friends," 116-119. In a fascinating letter to Bartlett Yancey in 1828, Macon defined the 
South physically, not politically (e.g., the Mason-Dixon line). The northern boundary of the South was 
the south bank of the James River in Virginia: "No long leaf pine North of the James River nor live oak 
north ot new point comfort, the long leal pine and live oak, are the boundaries ot the South." See Wilson, 
Congressional Career of Macon Followed fry Letters, 100-103. 

76. Nathaniel Macon to Weldon Edwards, July 17, 1836, Conway Collection; Elizabeth G. McPherson, 
ed., "Unpublished Letters from North Carolinians to Van Buren," North Carolina Historical Ret'ieu' 15 
(January 1938): 71. Appendix B of Barry, "Nathaniel Macon," contains a checklist of Macon's outgoing 
correspondence. It confirms that this letter to Van Buren was the last in Macon's hand. 



78 



Nathaniel Macon: Three Views of His Character and Creed 




Like Randolph and other Old Republicans, Macon regularly opposed federal funding for internal improvements. 
However, he supported state and private efforts at road construction, canal building, swamp drainage, and railroad 
construction. He owned stock in the Roanoke Navigation Company, one of thirty-three private navigation 
companies chartered by the state between 1 784 and 1825, and saw the volume of goods and people transported on 
the river and its canals grow steadily during that period. Photograph of the Roanoke River canal aqueduct by 
William S. Trice Jr., reproduced with permission. 

chair, he complained of more spasms and was helped into bed. There he died 
"without a struggle" (Edward Cotten reported) and "sunk to rest without pain or 
suffering" (as Weldon Edwards related). 77 

His plain coffin was buried at a site about three hundred yards east of his home. 
Weldon Edwards reported that Macon told him the site was "so barren no one will 
ever desire to cultivate it." He further directed that stones thrown up by plows 
working the land be used to cover him. 78 Good farmland should not be devoted to 
the dead. 



77. Cotten, Life o/Hon. Nathaniel Macon, 263-266; Edwards, Memoir of Nathaniel Macon, 19. The Macon- 
Eaton Bible, Southern Historical Collection, contains an entry giving the date of death as July 27. 

78. Edwards, Memoir of Nathaniel Macon, 19-20. Edwards's credible account does raise some questions for 
a modern visitor to the gravesite. For instance, Macon's wife and son are buried next to him. Were they 
already there, and he joined them ? Were they moved there later to join him ? Would Macon have interred 
them in the same bleak ground he chose for himself? Dodd says that Hannah was buried not far from the 
dwelling (Life of Nathaniel Macon, 45). Both Thomas Pittman and Dodd say that Macon requested burial 
beside his wife (thus she was already on the current site), but neither cites a source. See Thomas M. 
Pittman, Nathaniel Macon: An Address (Greensboro, N.C: Guilford Battle Ground Co., 1902), 16-18; 
Dodd, Life of Nathaniel Macon, 398-399. Edwards makes no mention of other graves on the "sterile ridge," 
and he implies that Macon chose the worthless ground with his lifelong disdain for memorialization. 



Nathaniel Macon, Planter 79 



When the enormous crowd gathered at Buck Spring in July heat to recall and 
celebrate the memory of Nathaniel Macon, many of them knew that a Revolu- 
tionary soldier and Old Republican was gone. Surely, some of them also sensed 
that the slow-paced world of the independent farmer that he and his friend 
Thomas Jefferson had prized was also fading. Banks with their paper money and 
credit were expanding throughout North Carolina as they were in the South and 
the nation. Steamboats plied the Roanoke and its engineered canals. As travelers 
to the burial of "the last of the Romans" rode to Buck Spring, many of them would 
have seen ties being laid for the Raleigh and Gaston Railroad. Amid the ample 
food and drink at the funeral did anyone taste the irony? 



Two years before he died, Nathaniel Macon asserted his preference for the 
word "planter" over "farmer." It "conveyed to his mind more of independence and 
plenty." What did Macon mean? 

The foremost requirement for the independence Macon referred to was 
ownership of land. "Farmer" to him implied "a state of tenantry," of leasing rather 
than owning. Born under British rule, fighting in the American Revolution, and 
participating in the formation of new governments, Macon was part of that 
generation of southerners who believed that ownership of land and freedom from 
debt afforded the independence and moral character essential to liberty. 
Self-sufficiency and avoidance of financial anxiety (including excessive taxes) 
fostered independence. When money rather than food, clothing, and shelter 
became the measure of wealth, the moral fabric of society suffered. 79 Throughout 
his long life, Macon avoided debt and paper money. If he was compelled to use 
currency, he sought to draw it from a state bank rather than any federal branch. 
Despite a long political career, he never solicited for any office, and although a 
lifelong Democrat, he deplored and eventually refused to participate in the caucus 
system that developed within his party. He never cloaked his political opinions in 
either subtlety or flattery but stated them plainly, consistently, and infrequently. 
As close as he was to Jefferson and Randolph and others in his time in Congress, 
more than once he struck an independent course from them politically when his 
principles dictated it. 80 

For example, Macon adamantly refused to have any image of himself made during his lifetime. See John 
Hill Wheeler, Reminiscences and Memoirs of North Carolina and Eminent North Carolinians (Columbus, 
Ohio: Columbus Printing Works, 1884), 454. 

79. Kirk, Randolph of Roanoke, 85; Pauline Maier, "Early Revolutionary Leaders in the South and the 
Problem of Southern Distinctiveness" in The Southern Experience in the American Revolution, ed. Jeffrey J. 
Crow and Larry E. Tise (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1978), 15-18; Risjord, Old 
Republicans, 3; H. Watson, "Squire Oldway and His Friends," 1 1 5. 

80. Nathaniel Macon to Weldon Edwards, December 24, 1827, March 3, 1828, Macon Papers; Benton, 
Thirty YeaTs' Vieu 1 , 34-35; Edwards, Memoir of Nathaniel Macon, 11-14. 



80 



Nathaniel Macon: Three Views of His Character and Creed 




Macon, like Thomas Jefferson, cherished Individual freedom and an economic ideal of agriculture pursued on 
independent farms. Jefferson, praising Macon's integrity, modest virtue, and political pragmatism, once called 
Macon "Ultimus Romanorum" — the last of the Romans. Pendleton's Lithography, "Thomas Jefferson, Third 
President of the United States," c. 182S. Engraving, after original painting hy Gilbert Stuart, in American 
Memory Collections, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 



The plenty that Macon most prized was that afforded hy a self-sufficient 
freehold. Never as wealthy as the leading planters of the Roanoke Valley, he was 
still comfortably well-to-do. S1 His contemporaries uniformly referred to his warm 
hospitality. While Macon would grouse from time to time about market prices for 
crops or a bad harvest, he never alluded to having to borrow money to make it 
through a rough period, much less to speculate. The untimely deaths of his elder 
daughter and her husband in 1827 and 1828 burdened Macon with assisting in the 
care of their orphaned children. While that circumstance caused him much grief, 

81. Censer, North Carolina Planters, xiv. For purposes of her study, Censer looks at planters owning 
seventy or more slaves in one county in the 1830 census. Macon just missed that definition in 1830 hut 
had exceeded it hy 1837, probably through natural increase rather than purchase. 



Nathaniel Macon. Planter 



81 




lBBwawGE3&<£te -.■-" 

On June 29, 1837, Macon died quietly at Buck Spring. The Raleigh Register reported that between one thousand 
and fifteen hundred whites and several hundred blacks attended Macon's funeral. He had selected a gravesite 
about three hundred yards east of his home because the land was "so barren no one will ever desire to cultivate it." 
He did not believe that good farmland should be devoted to the dead. He further directed that stones thrown up by 
plows working the land be used to cover his grave. Photograph of Macon's gravesite at Buck Spring by Michael 
Southern, courtesy ot the State Archives. 

he did not complain of financial distress. 82 If many Roanoke planters lived 
luxuriously, Macon was content but not ostentatious in his plenty. 

Finally, it must he noted that Macon had no intention of defaming farmers 
when defining planters. To be sure, planters had more independence and plenty 
and less tenantry than farmers, but both were agrarians, close to the soil and away 
from the corruption of cities. Like Jefferson and Randolph, Macon valued farming 
the land above all other employment. 83 It was "truly faring well," as he had said in 
1828. 



82. Edwards, Memoir of Nathaniel Macon, 13; John Randolph to Weldon Edwards, January 7, 1828, 
Edwards Papers. 

83. Larson, "Jefferson's Union and the Problem of Internal Improvements," 343-345; Weaver, The 
Southern Tradition at Bay, 18. 



82 Nathaniel Macon: Three Views of His Character and Creed 



The modern traveler to the gravesite of Nathaniel Macon sees what he would 
have rejected: a bronze plaque mounted on granite detailing his political 
accomplishments. The visitor no longer finds close at hand the large stones 
covering the graves of Macon, his wife, and son. No plows are turning over big 
rocks now near the barren ground Macon chose. 

To comply with the old man's request that passersby throw a stone on his 
remains, the visitor can only toss a pebble from the sandy ground surrounding the 
site. Having turned off the state highway, the traveler has arrived by automobile 
over paved roads past the small, neat houses of white and black families — some 
with satellite dishes in their yards. The countryside for miles around is still farmed, 
and fox and deer still roam the thick woodlands. On certain days you can even 
hear the blare of a hunting horn calling hounds to the chase. 



Ind 



ex 



Adams, John: pictured, 1 3; as president, 8, II, 12, IS, 
16, 38,41,44 

Adams, John Quincy, 45 

African Americans: attend Nathaniel Macon's 

funeral, 71; constitute majority in Halifax County, 
N.C. (1786), 59; Nathaniel Macon views, as 
interior, 68; reside near residence ot Nathaniel 
Macon, 82 

Alamance, Battle of. Sec Battle of Alamance 

Albemarle Sound: Roanoke River flows into, 56-57, 59 

Alien and Sedition Acts, 2,11, 12, 14, 30, 38 

American colonies: resent British attempts to curtail 
provincial legislative authority, 4-7 

American Revolution, 2, 20, 24, 32, 37, 43, 44; 
African Americans tight tor Patriot cause during, 
69; colonies resent British attempts to curtail 
provincial legislative authority, 4-7; commerce in 
North Carolina at eve of, 59; gambling in Roanoke 
Valley during, 59; home-huilding in Roanoke 
Valley atter, 62; ideals of, 15, 16; leaders of, in 
South, 56; Nathaniel Macon fights in, 32-33, 55, 
79; Nathaniel Macon linked to, 49 

Anderson, James, 71 

Anglicans, 53. See also Episcopalians 

Anritederalism: Nathaniel Macon strongly supports, 
27-51 

Antttederalists, 8, 26; Nathaniel Macon one of 
leading, 27-51 

Augusta, Ga., 61 

B 

Bank oi the United States, 43, 45 

Baptist Church, 39 

Baptist faith, 72 

Baptists, 72 

Battle of Alamance, 32 

Battle of Camden, 32, 55 

Battle of Gettysburg, 60 

Battle ot Guilford Courthouse, 55 

Benton, Thomas Hart, 71 

Bertie County, N.C, 57, 69 

Bible, 39; Nathaniel Macon bequeaths, to eldest 
grandson, 71; Nathaniel Macon reads, to slaves on 
Sundays, 72; Nathaniel Macon reads, throughout 
lite, 55; Nathaniel Macon records births, deaths, 
marriages, and business transactions in, 59-60 

Bill of Rights, 38 

Blackstone, William, 71 

Bonaparte, Napoleon, 11,17 

Breckinridge, John, 14 



Buck Spring: 2, 33, 39; corncrih at, pictured, 67; 
Gideon Hunt Macon acquires land that would 
become, 60; John Randolph ot Roanoke frequently 
visits, 64-65; location of, 57; Nathaniel Macon's 
funeral and burial at, 78-79; Nathaniel Macon 
maintains thoroughbred horses at, 67; Nathaniel 
Macon's plantation at (1779-1837), 52-53, 55, 62, 
64, 70, pictured, 3, 66; Nathaniel Macon spends 
last months at, 74; Raleigh and Gaston Railroad 
passes within five miles of, 77; slave flees, 68; 
tobacco as principal crop grown at, 62 

Bunker Hill, 32 

Burr, Aaron, 44 

Burrington, George, 32 

Bute County, N.C, 52-53, 57. See also Franklin 
County, N.C, and Warren County, N.C. 

Bute County Committee of Safety, 32, 33 

Bute County Courthouse, 2, 53, 55, 60 

Byrd, William, 60 



C 

Caldwell, Joseph, 76 

Calhoun, John C, 50, 69 

Camden, S.C., Battle of. See Battle of Camden 

Canova, Antonio, 22; statue of George Washington 

by, pictured, 23 
Cavaliers, 60 
Chapel Hill, N.C, 42; as site of University of North 

Carolina, 56 
Charles 11, 31 
Charleston, S.C., 31 
Charlottesville, Va., 19 
Chesapeake, 17, 18 
Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, 47 
Chesapeake region, 57, 59 
China (slave of Nathaniel Macon), 69 
Christianity, 72 
Cicero, 65 
Civil War, 19; home-building in Roanoke Valley 

before, 62 
Clay, Henry, 46 

Cockfighting match, 59, 71; pictured, 61 
College of New Jersey (later Princeton University), 2, 

55,72 
College of William and Mary, 56 
Commentaries on the Laws of England, 7 1 
Constitution, U.S., 2, 7, 13, 21; loose interpretation 

of, 28, 38, 46-48, 49, 69, 76 
Constitution of 1776 (N.C), 34 
Constitutional Convention of 1835 (N.C), 4, 33, 40, 

47 



Index 



Continental Line, 32 
Cotten, Edward, 68, 78 
Crawford, William H., 45, 50 



D 



Davie, William Richardson, 2, 56 

De Officiis, 65 

Declaration of Independence, 6, 10, 26, 48 

Declaration of Rights, 34 

Delaware River, 55 

Democratic Party: Nathaniel Macon advises members 

of, 74; Nathaniel Macon as lifelong member of, 79 
Democratic-Republican Party, 3. See also Republican 

Party; Republicans 
Democratic-Republican societies, 8 
Democratic-Republicans, 30, 39, 49 
Democrats. See Democratic Party 
Demosthenes, 55 
Dismal Swamp Canal, 76 
Dismal Swamp Canal Company, 76 
Dodd, W. E., 28 



Eaton, William, 71 

Eaton family, 62 

Edenton, N.C., 53, 59 

Edwards. WeldonN., 51,71,78 

Elizabeth River, 76 

England, 20, 55; Alexander Hamilton supports 
conciliatory policy toward, 7, 8; John Jay seeks 
treaty with, 10; Lords Proprietors in, 31; warship of, 
fires on American Chesapeake, 17, 18. See also 
Great Britain 

Ephraim (slave of Nathaniel Macon), 69 

Episcopalianism, 53 

Episcopalians, 72. See also Anglicans 

Essex (slave of John Randolph), 68 



Fayetteville, N.C., 10; Constitutional convention at 
(1789), 33, 34 

Federalists, 2, 35, 39, 43; Jay Treaty and, 10-1 1; 
newspaper of, S; Thomas Jefferson detests 
pro-British sympathies among, 16; Thomas 
Jefferson and Nathaniel Macon believe policies of, 
threaten free government, 13-14; view ratification 
of the Constitution in 1789 as a victory, 30 

Fenno, John, 8 

Florida: Andrew Jackson invades, 45 

Force Bill, 49 

France, 10, 1 1, 44, 72; and the Quasi War, 30; 
Revolutionary, 48; Thomas Jefferson supports 
conciliatory policy toward, 7, 8 



Franklin, Benjamin, 56 

Franklin County, N.C, 57. See also Bute County, N.C. 

French Revolution, 44 

Freneau, Philip, 8 

G 

Gales, Joseph, 8, 39; pictured, 38 

Gales, Weston R., 52 

Gallatin, Albert, 13, 42, 50; pictured, 50 

Gambling: in the Roanoke Valley, 59, 61-62 

Gaston, N.C, 76 

Gazette of the United States, 8, 30 

George II, 6 

George III, 6; colonists' rebellion against, compared 

to Antifederalists, 28 
Georgetown, 68 
Georgia: Sir Archie defeats thoroughbred horses 

from, 62; Yazoo land speculations in, 16 
Gerry, Elbridge, 14, 15 

Gettysburg, Battle ot. See Battle of Gettysburg 
Glorious Revolution of 1688, 6, 72 
God: Henry Pattillo avers that ethical conduct renders 

to, the glory due Him, 53-54; Nathaniel Macon on 

religious faith and human responsibility to, 72 
Gospel, 72. See also Bible 
Granville County, N.C, 53, 74 
Granville District, 33; riots in, 32 
Great Britain, 11; in American Revolution, 4, 32; 

and Jay Treaty, 30. See also England 
Greece, 55 

Greene, Nathanael, 32 
Grove, William Barry, 10, 35 
"Grove, The": pictured, 58 
Guardian, 56 
Guilford Courthouse, Battle of See Battle of Guilford 

Courthouse 



H 

Halifax, N.C, 76; agriculture and commerce in 
late-eighteenth-century, 59-62; Nathaniel 
Macon's plantation near, 2, 57; N.C. state 
constitution dratted at, 33 

Halifax County. N.C, 33, 57 

Hamilton, Alexander, 10, 30, 44; loosely interprets 
U.S. Constitution, 14; pictured, 9; Thomas 
Jefferson criticizes centralizing policies of, 7-8 

Hard Rain (thoroughbred horse), 71 

Hawkins, Benjamin, 53, 55 

Hawkins, Joseph, 53, 55 

Hawkins, Philemon, 52-53, 60 

Hillsborough, N.C: Constitutional convention at 
(1788), 7, 33 

Hindus, 72 

History of the Dividing Line, 60 



Index 



85 



Holmes, John, 20 
Homer, 55 

Huhquarter Creek, 53 
Huguenots, 72 



Internal improvements, 46, 47-48, 69, 74-77 
Israel, children of, 72 

J 

Jackson, Andrew, 27; corresponds with Nathaniel 
Macon, 49; Nathaniel Macon's views of, change, 45 

Jay Treaty, 2, 10,11, 30,35 

Jefterson, Thomas, 2, 3, 27, 50; articulates dilemma of 
slavery, 20; believes citizenry best promotes 
republicanism, 25; corresponds with Nathaniel 
Macon, 22; creed and politics of, as president, 15, 
16, 43; death of, 26, 47; deems Nathaniel Macon a 
model of republicanism, I, 24, 26; establishes the 
University of Virginia, 19; friendship with 
Nathaniel Macon, 39, 56, 60, 65, 79; friendship 
with Willie Jones, 34; grave obelisk of, pictured, 24; 
Jean-Antoine Houdon bust of, pictured, 5; John 
Randolph of Roanoke criticizes, 4; opposes 
centralizing policies of Alexander Hamilton and 
George Washington, 7-8, 44; pictured, 45, 80; 
proposes embargo prohibiting maritime trade, 17- 
18, 49; supports annual elections, 40; supports 
separate branches in American government, 6; 
supports states' rights, 21, 46; values farming, 42, 
81; writes Kentucky Resolutions, 13-14, 30 

Johnny (slave of John Randolph), 68 

Johnson, William Ransom, 61 

Jones, Edward, 60 

Jones, Joseph Seawell, 60, 77 

Jones, Willie: chairs Hillsborough Convention of 
1788, 7; home of, pictured, 58; Nathaniel Macon is 
closely allied with politically, 2, 32, 33, 35, 56; 
pictured, 34 

luba (slave of John Randolph), 68 

Judges, book of, 72 



K 

Kentucky: adopts Kentucky Resolutions, 14 
Kentucky resolutions, 13-14, 44 



L 

Lafayette, Marquis de, 11 

London, 34 

Lord Granville, 10 

"Loretta" (William R. Davie's home): pictured, 73 



Louisiana Purchase, 1 

Lower Cape Fear Valley, 57 

Lucy (slave of Nathaniel Macon), 69 

M 

Macon, Betsy, 64, 74, 80 

Macon, Gideon Hunt, 2, 52, 60 

Macon, Hannah Plummer, 2, 33, 64, 82 

Macon, Harrison, 2, 32, 33 

Macon, John, 2, 53, 56; attends Hillsborough 

Convention of 1788, 7, 33; serves in Continental 
Line, 32 

Macon, Nathaniel: advocates a free press, 8; advocates 
wide suffrage for white males, 40-41; and Albert 
Gallatin, 13; attends Warrenton horse races, 62; 
believes in protecting individual freedoms, 38-39; 
bookplate of, pictured, 21; bronze plaque honoring, 
pictured, 25; character and opinions of, 53-56, 
68-74, 79-81; condemns taxes and patronage, 42- 
44; congressional career of, 2- 22, 35-49, 50-51; 
corresponds with Thomas Jefferson, 22; criticizes 
Alien and Sedition Acts, 12; criticizes Jay Treaty, 
10; death, funeral, and burial of, 26, 71, 77-79; 
early political life and military service of, 2, 32-35; 
family and early life of, 2, 52-56, 64-68, 70-72, 
77-78; fights in American Revolution, 55, 79; 
gravesite of, pictured, 81; pictured, 29, 54; 
plantation of, pictured, 3, 66, 67; as a planter, 
develops Buck Spring, 4, 7, 52-82; shares N.C.'s 
opposition to federalism, 30-31; and slavery, 20, 
64-65, 68-70; supports Andrew Jackson's 
presidency, 45; supports Antifederalism, 36-51; 
supports embargo prohibiting maritime trade, 18; 
supports separate branches in American 
government, 6; supports some of Jefferson's second- 
term proposals, 17; supports strict construction and 
states' rights, 21, 46-49, 76; Thomas Jefferson 
deems, a model of republicanism, 1, 24, 26; 
upholds principles of republicanism, 16; warns 
against governmental abuse of power, 36-38; works 
closely with Martin Van Buren in Democratic 
politics, 27-28 

Macon, Priscilla Jones, 2, 52-53 

Macon, Seigniora, 64, 74 

Macon family, 72 

Macon Manor, 52-53, 60 

Madison, James, 2, 3, 10, 35, 38, 44; Albert Gallatin 
succeeds, as Republican leader, 13; authors 
Virginia Resolutions, 14, 30; opposes policies of 
Alexander Hamilton, 7; pictured, 11; supports 
embargo prohibiting maritime trade, 17; writes for 
pro-Republican newspaper, 8 

Maine: admitted to the Union as a free state, 20 

Martin, Josiah, 32 



86 



Index 



Martin, Nathaniel Macon, 69 

Martin, William, 74, 80 

Maryland, 15 

Massachusetts, 14 

Maysville Road legislation, 45 

Military: Nathaniel Macon favors militias over 

standing armies, 37 
Missouri: slavery in, 19, 20 
Missouri Compromise, 20, 22, 68, 48 
Monroe, James, 8, 44 
Monticello, 19, 20, 22 
Mordecai, Jacob, 61 
Mount Vernon, 8 
Murphey, Archibald, 76, 32 



N 

Napoleonic Wars, 17 

National Gazette, 8, 30 

Neuse River: Gideon Hunt Macon settles in territory 
between Roanoke River and, 52 

New Jersey: Nathaniel Macon joins militia unit in, 2 

New York (state), 74 

Nicholson, Joseph, 15 

North Carolina, 14; agriculture in, 56; antebellum 
economic and social conditions in, 61-64; banking 
and credit systems established in, 79; citizens of, 
despise Jay Treaty, 10; constitution of, 72; 
Constitutional Convention of (1835), 52, 72; 
education in, 53; emigration from (1790-1820), 62- 
63; gambling in, 59, 61-62; General Assembly of, 59, 
74, 76; internal improvements in antebellum, 74- 
77, 79; Nathaniel Macon joins militia unit in, 2; 
Piedmont of, 59, 62; politics and authority in 
colonial, 31-32; pre-Revolutionary population of, 
57; rivalry between Virginia and, 59-60; Senate, 55; 
supports Declaration of Rights, 35; Supreme Court 
of, 70 

North Carolina Historical Commission: erects bronie 
plaque to honor Nathaniel Macon, 26 

Northampton County, N.C., 57, 76 

Nullification Crisis, 48 



o 

Ohio-Erie Canal, 47-48 

Old Republicans, 42, 79; break with Thomas Jefferson 
after 1805, 15, 17, 44; Nathaniel Macon supports 
principles of, 49, 65, 76; oppose expanded federal 
power at expense of states, 3; represent 
conservative wing of Republican Patty, 27 



Patronage, 6, 42, 43-44 

Pattillo, Henry, 53-55 

Pennsylvania, 13, 53 

Petersburg, Va.: Nathaniel Macon prefers, as market 

for his crops, 60, 77; tobacco shipped to, 61; 

Tuscarora trading path leads to, 60 
Pettigrew, Charles, 2, 53-55 
Phil (slave of Nathaniel Macon), 69 
Philadelphia, Pa.: Federalist and Republican 

newspapers in, 8 
Planters: and loss of slaves, 10 
Plummer, Hannah. See Macon, Hannah Plummer 
Poplar Mount, 77 
Presbyterianism, 55, 72 
Presbyterians, 7, 53 
Princeton University (earlier College of New Jersey), 

2,55 
Prosser, Gabriel, 69 
"Protestant test," 72 
Protestants, 72 
Psalmist, 74 



Quasi War, 30 



Q 



R 



Parliament (British), 6 
Pasquotank River, 76 



Raleigh, N.C.: Constitutional convention of 1835 in, 
33, 40, 52; Nathaniel Macon suggests moving 
University of North Carolina to, 56; State Capitol 
in, 22 

Raleigh and Gaston Railroad, 76-77, 79 

Raleigh Register, 8, 39, 42, 71, 76 

Randolph, John (of Roanoke), 3, 15, 37, 42. 44, 50, 
56, 60; declines church membership, 72; frequently 
visits Buck Spring, 64-65; friendship of Nathaniel 
Macon and, 56, 60, 68, 70, 79; keeps thoroughbred 
horses and dogs for hunting, 67-68; opposes 
embargo prohibiting maritime trade, 18; opposes 
Thomas Jefferson's initiatives, 16, 17; pictured, 70; 
values farming over all other employment, 81 

Randolph, Th. Jefferson, 1 

Regulators, 32, 33 

Religion: Nathaniel Macon advocates freedom of, 39 

Republican Party, 3, 38, 42, 43 

Republicanism: components of, 25, 42 

Republicans, 42, 43, 44, 46; control Congress with 
Jefferson's election, 1 5; differ with Federalists over 
domestic and international issues, 1 1; Kentucky 
Resolutions as creed of, 13; Nathaniel Macon 
aligns with, 8, 30; Nathaniel Macon earns respect 
of, 38; newspaper of, 39; North Carolina aligns 
with, 10; oppose Alien and Sedition Acts, 12 

Richmond, Va.: Gabriel Prosser plot in (1800), 69; 
tobacco shipped to, 61 



Index 



87 



Roanoke, Va., 57 

Roanoke Navigation Company, 76 

Roanoke River, 2; canal aqueduct of, pictured, 78; 

Gideon Hunt Macon settles south of, 52; 

steamboats ply, 76, 79; geography, economy, and 

culture of, 56-63, 80-82 
Roman Catholics, 72 
Rome, 55 

Ruffin, Thomas, 69-70 
Russia, 68 



Salisbury, N.C., 61 

Samson, 55 

Santo Domingo, 48, 69 

Sedition Act. Sec Alien and Sedition Acts 

Sedition Law. See Alien and Sedition Acts 

Shocco Creek, 52, 60 

Sims, George, 33 

Sir Archie (thoroughbred horse), 62; pictured, 63 

Slavery: Nathaniel Macon on abolition of, 69; United 
States confronts legal status of, 19, 20 

Slaves: Charles Pettigrew on owning, 54-55; 

insurrections by, against slavery, 69; and the Jay- 
Treaty, 10; Nathaniel Macon discusses, 69; 
Nathaniel Macon works alongside, 65; owned by 
Thomas Jefferson, 19 

Smyth, J. F. D., 59 

Solomon, 55 

South: banking and credit systems established in, 79; 
education in, 53, 56; Nathaniel Macon hopes, will 
remain primarily agrarian, 77; Nathaniel Macon 
predicts chaos in, if slavery is abolished, 69; 
Revolutionary War battles in, 55; and secession 
crisis, 49 

Spain, 17 

Spectator, 56 

State v. Mann, 69 



Tar Heels, 60 

Tarborough, N.C., 52 

Taxes: affect small-scale farmers in early National 

period, 42-43 
Taylor, John (of Caroline), 14, 42 
Thornton, Francis, 69 
Tuscarora War, 60 
Tuscaroras, 60 



u 

United States Capitol: design for, pictured, 41 



United States Congress: 28, 30; authority of, under 
U.S. Constitution, 69, 76; Nathaniel Macon's 
career in, 2-22, 35-49, 50-51, 69, 79 

University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill), 42; 
Nathaniel Macon resigns trusteeship of, 74; 
Nathaniel Macon suggests moving, from Chapel 
Hill to Raleigh, 56 

University of Virginia, 19, 26 



V 

Valley Forge, Pa., 32 

Van Buren, Martin, 4, 42, 45, 74, 77; corresponds 
with Nathaniel Macon, 49; pictured, 31, 75; 
praises Nathaniel Macon, 27; shares Antifederalist 
views of Nathaniel Macon, 28, 51 

Virginia, 14, 17; Charles Pettigrew moves to, 53; 
Dismal Swamp Canal runs between North 
Carolina and, 76; emigrants from, settle in Bute 
County, N.C., 60; fighting cocks bred in, 59; 
Gideon Hunt Macon migrates from, 52; Macon 
family emigrates from France to, 72; Tidewater, 57; 
tobacco inspections in, 59 

Virginia Resolutions, 14, 44 

Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, 26 

w 

Walpole, Sir Robert, 6 

War of 1812, 18,19,37,47 

Warren County, N.C., 2, 32; gambling in, 59; 

Nathaniel Macon resides in, 52, 57, 64; Nathaniel 
Macon resigns office of justice of the peace of, 74; 
as part of Roanoke Valley, 57; Raleigh and Gaston 
Railroad right-of-way laid in (1836), 77; Virginians 
migrate to what would become, 57. See also Bute 
County, N.C. 

Warrenton, N.C, 27, 39, 56-62 

Warrenton Male Academy, 60-61 

Washington, George, 10, 16, 46; Antonio Canova 
statue of, 22, pictured, 23; some oppose programs 
of, 30; Thomas Jefferson criticizes centralizing 
policies of, 7-8 

Washington, D.C., 19, 34, 36; British set fire to, 18; 
as seat of U.S. government, 65 

Weldon, N.C, 76-77 

West Florida, 17 

West Indies (British), 10 

Western Great Road, 60 

Whiskey Rebellion, 8 

Witherspoon, John, 2 

Williams family, 62 

Williamsburg, Va., 56 

Wilmington and Weldon Railroad, 77 




Nathaniel Macon (1758-1837), a 
Warren County native, entered public 
ervice in 1781 when he was elected 
the North Carolina Senate. He 
ter served North Carolina in the 
U.S. House of Representatives 
(1791-1815) and in the U.S. Senate 
(1815-1828). During this period he 
held numerous important positions in 
the Congress and held the respect of 
his peers. Thomas Jefferson hailed 
Macon as "the last of the Romans" for 
his steadfast devotion to Republican 
ideals. 



The three essays in this volume illuminate Nathaniel Macon's 
character, motivations, and values as demonstrated in his life and 
career — his agrarianism, his beliefs, his personality, his milieu, his 
politics, and, above all, his steadfast devotion to what he believed 
to be the legacy of the American Revolution. 



William S. Price Jr. earned a B.A. in history from Duke University and a 
Ph.D. in history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 
Beginning in 1971, Dr. Price held numerous positions in the North Carolina 
Division of Archives and History, including editor of the North Carolina 
Colonial Records Project (1971-1975), assistant director (1975-1981), and 
director (1981-1995) of the division. After retiring from state service, he 
taught on the faculty of Meredith College (1995-2006). 




Historical Publications Section 
Office of Archives and History 
4622 Mail Service Center 
Raleigh, NC 27699-4622 

www.ncpublications.com 



ISBN- 13 978-0-86526-334-5 
ISBN-10 0-86526-334-5 

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Bindery, Inc. 

AUG. 2008